Wednesday, March 23, 2011

An unconventional voice technique

The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud, features a main character that is a 5,000 year old djinn (genie), with the ultimate know-it-all, how-can-I-mess-up-your-life attitude.

(If you haven't noticed by now, I jabber a lot about mythical creatures. I've been overdue to feature a djinn; these "spirits of smokeless fire" are one of my top three fav critters, along with dragons and gryffins.)

Bartimaeus, this djinn full of delicious attitude, already has a strong voice. But the author uses an unconventional technique to ramp up the voice even more. Here's an excerpt in the first chapter (no spoilers) where an inexperienced 12 year old magician is foolish enough to summon Baritmaeus:
You don't often get small ones like this squirt calling up entities like me, in the first place. The kid cleared his throat. This was the moment. This is what he'd been building up to. He'd been dreaming of this for years, when he should have been lying on his bed thinking about racing cars or girls. I waited grimly for the pathetic request. What would it be? Levitating some object was a usual one, or moving it from one side of the room to the other. Perhaps he'd want me to conjure an illusion. That might be fun: there was bound to be a way of misinterpreting his request and upsetting him.(3)
That (3) is a superscript (my html skills were unable to duplicate this in true stunning superscript form). The superscript references the following footnote:
(3) One magician demanded I show him an image of the love of his life. I rustled up a mirror.
The book is FULL of footnotes. It's got more footnotes than a phd dissertation.

And I had a blast reading it (without any flashbacks to college research papers). Many of the scenes are written in the young magician's point of view (no footnotes) and he's a bit of a melancholy character, so I was always happy to get back to the point of view of Bartimaeus with his endless bottom-of-the-page quips (there's at least one footnote for every three pages of Bartimaeus). I thought it was a powerful method to ramp up the character's voice without overwhelming the plot by hanging too many fanciful ornaments on it.

But I was curious what other readers thought of this unconventional method, especially the target 9-12 year old age range for this book. You can't tell the age of reviewers on Goodreads (thank heavens for that, in my case) but I did notice that quite a few reviewers didn't like all the footnotes. Some mentioned that they were distracting and made the book hard to read, constantly having to jump down to the bottom of the page and then find your location in the text again.

What do you think? Do you enjoy skipping up and down the page to enjoy funny anecdotes in a strong voice? Or would you rather sacrifice some voice for a "smoother" reading experience? And has anyone run across any other unconventional methods for developing voice?

P.S. C.A. Marshall posted statistics on genre that entered for her "win a free professional edit" contest. Really interesting results broken down by adult, YA and MG and includes number of boy MCs vs. girl MCs.

P.P.S. I finished and reviewed Like Mandarin, by Kirsten Hubbard, and it's wondddddddddderful (all the d's means it's spreading wonderful germs). There's a mythical creature in this book, too! Really! I contest that it should be listed as paranormal YA instead of contemporary YA. Here's proof:
I wished for the power to destroy whatever monster made her sabotage herself. If one even existed. Maybe it was Mandarin's official mythological creature.

23 comments:

  1. Terry Pratchett uses footnotes a lot and I love them. Often they are funnier than the plot lines!

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  2. The only book I read with footnotes in it was The Brief And WOndrous Life of Oscar Wao...and those weren't about voice it was about revealing history of the dominican republic. It was very interesting. Ironically my friend was pitching me this trilogy earlier today!

    I love the snippet and the footnote!

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  3. I like that cover. Okay, now that's out of that way, my first thought was Terry Pratchett and his footnotes. I enjoyed them but I prefer when they come at the end of a sentence for convenience' sake. And you have no idea how long I spent looking up the apostrophe usage for 'convenience' sake', how ironic.
    - Sophia.

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  4. Terry Pratchett does footnotes in all his books (especially his early ones) and they are invaluable! They're brilliant! They just add more fun and humour and complete loveliness to his stories!!!! Yay for great footnotes!!!!

    And thanks for the intro to this book - might go and discover more about it!! Take care
    x

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  5. I can see how this device might be a wonderful amusement for some and annoyance for others. But you can't please all of the people all of the time! There are plenty of authors who interrupt with long parenthetical asides, which just seems like an MLA-style equivalent of the same thing.

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  6. I just finished Ondine and the sequel by Ebony Mckenna and she uses footnotes as well. At first I wasn't sure because I read fast and get pulled into a story, so I was worried. But they were so much fun! And I don't think she overdid it.

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  7. I read this book a few years ago and enjoyed it. I might have read some of the footnotes, but I just skipped some of them. As long as they aren't crucial to the plot line, readers can skip them if they want to.

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  8. I've never read that series, but I've always been curious about it. I'll have to try it.

    I love footnotes, except when I'm editing an academic paper or book. Then I hate them.

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  9. Sometimes footnotes can be distracting but I loved it in the Jasper Fforde series.

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  10. Footnotes drive me nuts, so I'm not sure I'd get far in the book.

    I still have to read Like Mandarin. I got it last week, but ended up reading another book instead (which I loved). I've got two more books planned before I can read it. Unless I'm in the mood for some more romance. Then it will have to wait a bit longer.

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  11. I'm a huge fan of this series, and it is truly a wonderful example on voice. I'd recommend them to any fan of YA or middle grade fiction.

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  12. Sometimes I'd like to ignore footnotes, but I guess in some cases they do tend to be helpful. I love the Bartimaeus Trilogy! The voice is witty, sarcastic and just a great use of the English language.

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  13. Ooh, I love the genie concept. Mythical creatures are great (example: Harry Potter and Eragon). I have so many books on mythical beings you’d think I wrote more hardcore fantasy instead of merely including fantasy elements in my historical romances, but I love fantasy even if I don’t write about it to the level I research.

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  14. Footnotes in a YA book? I'm not sure my son would like a book like that. I wonder why the writer did that? However, love the cover of the book. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

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  15. I've never heard of this book. I'll have to check it out. It sounds interesting. I have heard of Like Mandrin and so want to read it. Thanks for the nice comments about my Crusader Challenge. I appreciate it.

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  16. Footnotes can be distracting but, when done well, I love them! I tried reading Amulet of Samarkhand once because my husband loves the trilogy and told me to, but I just couldn't get into it - I enjoyed it, but it wasn't really my thing. That said, I love how hilarious Bartimaeus is!

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  17. An Abundance of Katherines has footnotes. I thought it would be distracting, but actually it was fun reading them. Maybe that's the key - making the footnotes interesting.

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  18. Hmmm, the footnote thing is definitely a taste issue. While I wouldn't mind them, I'd get sick of jumping around each page, looking for the footnote, etc. So, I may end up skimming or skipping.

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  19. Thanks for the links!

    I think more inventive techniques are allowed (allowable?) for MG, less so for YA. Why? Because kids don't care - they're open for something new, less stuck in their rut, like all us adults. :)

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  20. Maybe it's because I'm a busy mom, but I want my reads to be easy. No jumping back and forth for me! Now, when I had more time on my hands, I probably wouldn't have minded. :)

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  21. I have a hard enough time getting my kid to read. Footnotes would make him feel he has to read twice. :)

    .........dhole

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  22. I know a lot of french authors do footnotes, especially if you're reading a series. However I've never heard of this one, I should add it to my list to check it out.
    question for you: do you accept awards? It's ok if the answer is no. (You already know how happy I am to have met you). But if you do I have one for you here:
    http://fantasypen.blogspot.com/2011/03/award-friday-yay.html

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  23. I read this recently and I liked the djinn and the footnotes a lot. Unfortunately there were quite a few other things that I wasn't such a fan of. Footnotes can be great though when they're funny.

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