Since I'm not at the querying stage, I have no personal experience with agents yet, though I am regularly terrified by the QueryShark and Slushpile Hell. But then I am also encouraged by the friendliness and helpfulness of agents - see this very interesting dialogue that occurred between four agents that accept YA/MG (Mary Kole, Anica Rissi, Joanna Volpe, Suzie Townsend) on WriteOnCon's live industry panel. They talked about "writing voice" and if I appear to be slightly obsessed about voice (or my lack thereof) it's only because agents appear to be obsessed with it too.
This obsession has led me to studying every book of fiction I pick up now, and trying to pick out the distinctive voice. In some novels (e.g. Diary of Wimpy Kid, or anything by Rick Riordan) you don't pick out the voice - it pretty much assaults you. In other books it's much more subtle and makes me feel like I'm on a treasure hunt.
So here's where the dragons come in. Yeah, I'm a sucker for dragons. About every fifth book I pick up has something to do with dragons. Right now I'm analyzing the Dragon of Trelian (upper MG), by Michelle Knudsen, for voice and any other writerly bits of craft I can glean.
Here's yet another book that alternates between two first person Point-of-Views, like Shiver and the Red Pyramid and several others I've read lately. Switching first person is apparently more acceptable these days, though you always see reviews from people who say this confused them because it was hard to tell as a new chapter begins who's POV you're in. If you are going to tackle two first person POVs you need two distinct voices to distinguish the characters. Perhaps more so than in third person where the more frequent use of names helps the reader distinguish the POV.
Here you've got Princess Meg and mage's apprentice Calen, both fourteen years old. It took me a while to find distinct examples of their voices. Maybe I'm too focused on the plot when I read it the first time- I could tell they had a different voice but I couldn't pinpoint the difference. Had to skim back through to find actual examples of it.
Just for fun, I've underlined parts of the following snippets that I think are distinctive voice. Do you agree, disagree?
Something in his face must have reflected his thoughts. Meg stopped walking, her eyes wide and concerned. “Well, what? What is it, Calen?"
He shook his head. “I don’t really know.”
She poked a finger at him angrily. “Don’t do that,” she said. “You do too know, and you’re going to tell me.” She poked him again, harder. “Right now.”
Calen rubbed his chest. Did she always have to be so violent?
Meg, who is bossy and brash, uses short sentences often punctuated by aggressive motions.
Calen backed away from the chair and resigned himself to leaning against a wall instead.Calen, who is analytical and careful, tends to string together several thoughts into long sentences.
After a while, Serek looked up.
“What have I taught you about divination?” he asked.
“That it’s difficult, dangerous, not always reliable, and that I’ll learn more about it when and if you feel I’m old enough to handle it,” Calen said. “Why?”
Serek’s lips twitched slightly into what might have been a smirk. “I suppose I’ve just decided you’re old enough. Come here.”
“What exactly are you doing?” Serek’s deep voice spoke suddenly from the doorway behind him.Serek, Calen's master mage, is utterly devoid of emotion, except for the occasional sarcastic remark, and is characterized by abrupt, purposeful movements. (His gyrcat, though it never says a word, is such a distinct character he almost has a "voice" too). Highly recommend this book for many reasons, but Serek is a big one - I think he has potential to be one of the great fantasy mages, just a step below Gandalf and Dumbledore.
“I am looking for that stupid – uh, for Lyrimon,” Calen said. “I know he’s in here. I can feel him watching me.”
One corner of Serek’s mouth turned up slightly. “Oh, he’s watching you, all right.” He jerked his chin toward the window. Calen whipped his head around to look. Lyrimon was sunning himself idly on the stone wall that ran through the yard. He was watching, though. Even from this distance, Calen could see the evil glint in the gyrcat’s eyes.
“How do you do that?” Calen asked plaintively.
“Find him like that. You always know where he is. You can see him even when he’s practically invisible. Why won’t you teach me how to do it?”
“Now, what fun would that be?” Serek strode forward into the room.
After a while I started to see distinct examples of the author's voice, too - in the descriptive parts.
Calen was perched on the edge of a table. The chair across from the mage was occupied by Lyrimon, and Calen was too tired to fight him for it. As they talked, Calen fished black olives out of a jar and ate them. He had never cared much for olives, but he was so famished that he would have eaten almost anything at this point, and all Serek seemed to have on hand was jar after jar of olives. Perhaps, once he’d finished the current jar, he’d try some of the green ones.
At this point, if you are still reading yet another one of my idiotically long posts (will I NEVER learn?), you may be wondering where in the world the dragon is in this book.
I wondered the same thing. The dragon doesn't have a big role, most likely because he doesn't speak at all, though he is unique enough to be very pleasing. He shows up in odd spots just often enough to keep you wondering about him.
Another snippet that isn't so much about voice, as world-building and beautiful description. The mages in this story are marked on their faces (I kind of envisioned them like the marks/tattoos on the Romulans' faces in the 2009 Star Trek movie. Oops, just revealed that I'm a trekkie). The marks end up being crucial to the story's plot, which was kind of cool:
“May I ask – is an appointment such as this one, an honor like this – is it recorded in your marks? Forgive me, but I’ve never understood the full scope of what a mage’s marks include.”
That was an interesting question. Meg had wondered about the same thing herself. Calen’s face was barely marked, just a few lines and small shapes under his left eye, but Serek had delicate black lines spiraling across both sides of his face, with tiny symbols and dots of color worked into the design at various points.
Serek shook his head. ‘No.” For the first time, Meg thought she detected the barest touch of emotion in his voice. “No, the marks are given for years of study, fields of expertise, and accomplishments of that nature, Sen Eva. A mage may serve many masters in his lifetime, but it is the work and the study of magic that defines his life and purpose. Those are the things that set him apart from others, and the reason why no mage may go unmarked, as they show what he is capable of.”And because I've already violated the rule of short posts beyond repair, and because I loved this book, one last snippet full of voice:
Calen had never been to a wedding before. Of course, he guessed that even if he had, it wouldn’t have been anything like this one. At first it had all seemed rather boring. There was a lot of watching the members of the different families standing around repeating things back and forth to each other, and about a hundred different people got up to read long passages from various books, and then there were songs, and then possibly some other part he missed because he dozed off, but then finally people were shouting and cheering and he woke in time to watch Prince Ryant lean forward to kiss Princess Maerlie in full view of every living person that had been crowded into the enormous grand hall. Calen wondered if the Prince was nervous. He’d certainly be nervous if he had to kiss a girl in front of an audience! Well, he’d probably be nervous about kissing a girl in any event, he supposed. But the audience would make it even worse.So, if you've managed to make it through this monstrosity of a post, what book have you read lately with a strong voice - and was it a particular character with a distinct voice, or was it the author's overall voice that was more apparent?