So, I’ve been thinking a lot about voice lately. I’m working on my second novel (which is actually my third, but I put the second novel in a drawer when the third novel started heating up), which is a young-adult story about a sixteen/going-on-seventeen-year-old boy whose long-lost mother turns his world inside out. (If you’ve read Speaking Out, you’ll recognize the narrator from my story “The Trouble with Billy.” No, it’s not Billy, but both Billy and Sarah reappear in this novel too.) I started reading chapter one at my writing group last week, and while they agreed it was off to a good start, several of them asked, “Are you sure he’s sixteen?”
As it happens, the first episode in the Wordplay podcast (which includes former literary agent turned middle grade/young adult author and social media genius Nathan Bransford) talks about how tricky it is to capture that voice. A book I recently finished reading and which I think does a good job of that is With or Without You by Brian Farrey. And, as if the cosmos were trying to throw everything voice-related in my path at just the right time, there’s an article in the latest Poets & Writers magazine by J.T. Bushnell (cute author picture, by the way) titled “The Unreliable Narrator” all about how slippery it is to define, and to capture, just what makes a voice unique.
Jamie, my narrator, sounds either just shy of sixteen or like a kid from an earlier decade, both of which are problems as I’m not shooting for either of them. My writing group is good at pinpointing issues like these, but fixing them is up to me. I have a couple ideas in mind, and I think his voice does in fact sound older as I continue writing, so it may just be a matter of doubling back.
What do you think? What was the last book you read where you thought the voice didn’t match the character? And can you name a book where the author did a slam-dunk job of it? I’ll probably add suggestions from either category to my reading list.