Wednesday, June 8, 2011

V is for Voice: It Might Sell Your MG Novel

Voice is tricky to define, and even trickier to pin down when you’re writing. But editors and agents often say one of the key things they look for in a manuscript is a strong or unique voice. What does that mean?

Voice has been defined as the specific way that you, the writer, put words together so that your writing shows some personality. In novels where the narrator has a strong voice, the writing sounds natural. As a reader, you don’t notice that you’re reading words on a page. You’re in the story and the mind of the main character.  And if that novel is a MG novel, the story sounds like it comes from a real kid, not an adult.
I know this sounds obvious, but if you’re not an eight- to-twelve-year-old yourself, it’s easy to write something you think sounds like MG, but actually doesn’t. How can you develop your middle grade voice?

Think like a kid as you write. When you’re writing, you really need to see the world of the story and the story events through the eyes of a middle grade character. Kids and adults don’t notice the same kinds of things. They don’t talk the same way. They don’t react the same way. As much as you can, you need to take on that “kid perspective”.
Read middle grade fiction. One of my best tips for writing MG fiction is to read a lot of it. It gives you a feel for the language structures and style of speaking that 8- to-12-year-olds actually use. I know my own writing took a huge leap forward when I started reading more books written for the age level I’m actually writing.

Practice. I practice writing with a MG voice. I write about issues relevant to kids from my character’s point of view. Even if I don’t use my character’s opinions on whether they should be allowed to play more video games in my novel, I find that writing about them really helps to build that middle grade reader perspective.

What do you do to bring out your middle grade voice?


Anna Staniszewski writes on finding your middle grade voice.

At the SCBWI 2010 Conference blog, you’ll find some thoughts on voice from Jennifer Rees.
Here's a great post on voice from Notes from the Slushpile called Finding Your Voice: An SCBWI Master Class with Beverley Birch by Addy Farmer (added September 2011)

Miriam Forster has an interesting series of blog posts on voice, beginning with the difference between a writer’s voice and the character’s voice.

At Word Play, K.M. Weiland also discusses the differencebetween author voice and character voice.

Alexandra Sokoloff began a great discussion about voice with her blog post That Elusive Voice.

Lynda R. Young gives some strategies for developing a unique voice.

At MiG Writers, Debbie Ohi talks (and draws) about writers and voice.

Jeff Hirsch writes about a strategy for developing voice at The League of Extraordinary Writers.

At Let the Words Flow, Jennifer Fitzgerald writes about the struggle to get the right voice.

And at Writer Unboxed, Juliet Mallier tells some of her thought processes for choosing the right voice.

Shannon Whitney Messenger offers some tips for finding your character’s voice.

Over at The Bookshelf Muse, Becca posted a list of three good reasons why you should work on developing the voice of your novel and some tips for creating a strong character voice.

For more tips and links on developing voice, visit Adventures in Children’s Publishing.


  1. I read a lot. Then I know if I'm totally off or not. :)

  2. I'm already immature. I think that helps ;) And yes, reading MG helps a little, but then again there are so very many different styles of MG. I think that digging into my own memories of being that age - what was important to me, my fears, what made me happy, the injustices - helps me most.

    Great bunch of links, thanks!

    (This is Girl Friday btw, I seem to be shut out from Blogger!)

  3. I'm totally bookmarking this post! Fabulous advice and great links~ thanks so much!

  4. Thought-provoking post. Thank you. Voice is essential and must compel.

    Like you, I read loads of MG and have started reviewing it on by blog. This focuses me on what makes a particular story or author unique.

    And....I'm an observer. I people watch. And eavesdrop. And file behavior in my brain. And sometimes write notes about it if I have time.

  5. Thanks for the fabulous links! :)

    I haven't written in a MG voice in a while but it's definitely distinct from a YA voice for sure.

    Hard to explain but you know it in your gut when you finally have it.

    I think I'm going to have to go back and read my diaries from that age range to get the quirkiness of the voice if I write another MG.

  6. Wow, what a treasure trove of info' here--thanks! Great helps for those still trying to "find" their voice. Your tips are great, and I'll definitely check out these others...

  7. Great post, great links! Thanks!

    BTW, speaking of MG novels, if you haven't read The Liberation of Gabriel King by K.L. Going I highly recommend it!

  8. SOmetimes I wonder if I'm losing voice or if it's just my MC changing/growing. Great stuff.

  9. Reading tons of MG is #1.

    Voice is so important and elusive that it helps to read and talk about it as much as we can. Good post.


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