Thursday, April 10, 2014

Query Question: voice

Over the years I have seen incredible queries on your other site.  (A Comedy of Terrors. Worst case scenario.  Everyone's favorite, Premeditated, still gives me goosebumps.)

The voice has always kicked the query to the front of the line; I have a query for my very soon to be query-able ms.

I actually have a few queries; my favorite has what I feel might be a problem.

It is written in a slight Maine accent...there is only one character in the story with that accent, but I feel it gives the query a certain edge.

Port Templar, 95,000 words Sci-Fiction

“Hello there, my name’s Gubby I run the garage up ta Port Templar. She’s a gorgeous Maine town that’s got everything; lobstah rolls, steamers, even sells lobstah magnets to them damn tourists.

I didn't know whether to include it as an example, but wanted to illustrate the effect I was going for.

No no no.
Do not write your query using the voice of a character. That is NOT the same thing as your "voice"  as an author. What you've used above is vernacular and style particular to a character.

All the words in the query; which ones you choose and how you string them together: that's YOUR voice.

Here's voice: And so it came to pass that the writers found their way to a cave, rough-strewn with artifacts perhaps from those who had came before, decorated with odd markings on the wall, dimly lit by the sun dropping in the east. They decided, not without some bickering, they were writers after all, to tarry here for a while, hoping to find shelter and maybe a well-mixed martini.

It's the choice of words and phrases: "And so it came to pass" could have been "then" or "now" or any number of other choices.

"rough strewn" could have been "littered" and so on.

And it's not just diction (word choice) it's the rhythm of the sentence.  And the twist at the end.

That's voice. That's what you're trying for.  That's why you revise. Voice is found in revision. It's found in saying the sentences out loud. It's found in the first million words of practice. It's found in knowing the rules so you can break them with elegance and beauty. It's found in knowing a lot of lovely wonderful words so you use the perfect word, not the almost-right word, or worse: the over-used word.

Voice is who you are. Not who your characters are. 


Sarah G said...

Be careful of using alternate spellings to demonstrate an accent. That your character says "lobstah" instead of "lobster" may be very important to you. But to a reader it's jarring and takes them (me) out of the story. It's a form of telling instead of showing. Show me that the character is from Maine with their word choices and the flow of their thoughts/dialogue, and spell those words correctly.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

And in your example ("And it came to pass ...") the sun drops in the west. of course, rather than the east, but perhaps this is a wandering tribe of sci-fi writers.

Janet Reid said...

the sun drops in the west? who knew! ;)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Raggedy Sarah. Dialect is annoying to many readers, so why annoy?

When I see dialect written out like that, it always makes me wonder if we're supposed to assume that everyone else in the book pronounces each word exactly as it's spelled.

Pamala Knight said...

So much good advice in this post, highlighted by Sarah's. Even some of us, the great unpublished masses, know better than to write long passages in dialect instead of using word choices to illustrate the speech patterns.

I'd entered my manuscript in a contest where one of the judges scolded me in great detail (!) because my heroine didn't "talk" like she was from New Orleans. This judge went on to show me how the speech should've been written. After letting the bite of the criticism wash over me for a minute, I just smiled. Okay, whatever, but I'm not changing it because my heroine has the same speech patterns as my mother, who was a similarly educated woman from....New Orleans. :)

Unknown said...

I was recently quite blessed with some feedback on a query. The agent mentioned improving the “unique voice of the story”, but also mentioned “find the voice for him” in reference to the main character. They said other encouraging things too, and I was very grateful, but was left wondering which was more important to stress in a query, my authorial voice or the character’s internal voice.

I lacked the temerity to ask them for more rigorous clarification, but would be happy for any answers offered here.

french sojourn said...

As usual, thank you so much for your insight.
It was during the second draft that his voice kicked into the story and he really stood out as an incredible character. (albeit annoying at times.)
I will polish up my second favorite query....which does have voice, but I was seduced by the obscure quality of Gubby's character.

Again Thanks!

Cheers Hank.
"Such a helpful shark,..."

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Ah, voice. Yet another rock in my shoe! When I see it, I see it and love it. But I can't force it in my own queries. It comes or it doesn't, perhaps because of the stricken anxiety of "This could be it!" or "This might burn a bridge!"

Maybe martinis are advisable while query writing. Or whiskey sours. Of course, it's best to read and send while sober.

Fatboy said...

"'s the rhythm of the sentence."

I read everything I write out loud. Helps with the rhythm. You can hear it, or not

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Stockett's, The Help.
Need I say more?

Bonnie Shaljean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bonnie Shaljean said...

[Sorry, deletion was me, fixing an obnoxious typo that sneaked in the back door]

The other problem with writing in dialect is that it can give a totally different impression from the one you mean to convey! Maybe I spent too many years living in England, but when I read "lobstah" the immediate mental image I got was a snooty society wannabe trying to affect upper-class speech.

Yes, it is jarring and gives us an obstacle course to negotiate, which uses up mental energy that should be flowing unhindered into your story. I don't find it annoying so much as wearying and distracting; but many readers will probably experience both reactions.

So I agree with the others: don't make tricksy spelling do the character's work for her/him. Or let anything take us out of the fictional dream you are creating for us.

Kalli said...

I just think a query should never be in the voice of your character, or contain quotes, or dialogue, or anything other than your authorial voice giving a great teaser of your novel

Jude said...

Does the "I hate dialect" thing extend to dropping your g's, like fixin' or wantin'? And if the author does it once, do they have use it for every -ing word with that character, or can they occasionally pepper them in for flavor?

Nice example, BTW. My personal voice would have had a glass of red wine at the end.

Sarah G said...

Jude, personally dropping g's drives me crazy. But it's a matter of taste.

Renni Brown's "Self Editing for Fiction Writers" has a wonderful example of dialogue written for a black couple in the deep south during slave times. Every word is spelled correctly, no g's are dropped, but you still get the wonderful rhythm and cadence of their speech. I find that much more compelling to read than fiddling with spelling.