Picture Book Writer: What’s my Voice?

I’m starting a blog series exploring various topics on writing picture books. To be honest, it’s mainly so I can explore and learn more myself, but also to share my discoveries in case they’re useful to you, too.

So, first up: voice.

I’ve had feedback in the past from someone who liked my idea but didn’t like the voice. And an agent at a conference said she could tackle story problems but if the writing or voice weren’t right, she wouldn’t take the author on.

But what is this elusive voice thing they’re talking about?

Jane Yolen, who I adore, has this to say about voice:

“Writing teachers speak of “finding your voice” as if the damned thing were lost somewhere: behind the desk, under the computer, in back of the commode.”

And:

“The story’s voice, not the author’s.. That is what must be uncovered, not discovered.

So, how do we uncover our story’s voice?

Word choice

I came across the idea of creating a “word bank” for your story. For example, if you’re writing about water, use water verbs like tickle, dive, surge in your story to reflect the subject. I use online thesauruses like Power Thesaurus, and look for synonyms via RhymeZone.

Characters

Some ideas for uncovering how your characters talk:

  • re-write your story in 1st person. You don’t have to use 1st person in your final manuscript but it can give you insights into how they talk
  • interview your characters and dig deep
  • write a letter from your character.

And more

The voice should convey authority, show not tell, and have vivid, intentional language (related to the word bank idea). Read more in this article from Eerdmans Books and in this one.

I hope this has given you some ideas on how to uncover your story’s voice. Let me know if you have any other subjects you’d love to see me cover in this (likely not-very) regular column.

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