Finding your voice

I’m soon off to Korea to teach at a couple of writing camps and so have been working hard to prepare some of the material. One of the workshops I’m excited to teach is about voice. I’ve always loved a strong narrative voice. It’s the number one thing that hooks me. Similarly, if a book—especially a children’s book—lacks a strong voice, then I am completely turned away. There are numerous examples of very successful and popular books that just haven’t grabbed me because of their lack of voice. Which means, of course, that not everyone is so attached to voice as me.

Nonetheless, every author needs to find that individual way of telling a story. Me? I’ve always told the Kendra Kandlestar books in that old-fashioned style, as if your grandfather has sat you down in front of the fireplace and decided to tell you a tale. (Some reviewers criticize me for this style; others love it.) However, I’ve always changed my voice when it came to writing down the legends of Een.

These sections of the series have been some of my favourite to write. They are purposely in a completely different style and voice. I wanted to give the legends weight and history, so I drew upon classical works such as The Old Testament, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and The Iliad for inspiration. Here’s  the Legend of the Wizard Greeve (this appears in The Door to Unger):

In the Days of Een, when all were one, goodness flourished in the lands and the race of Eens knew only happiness. In those ancient times, there came to be the first council of Elders. Upon seven seats in the Elder Stone sat seven Elders, and they were all brothers. For many seasons, these first Elders guided the Eens wisely; but one brother, the Wizard Greeve, came to know envy and hatred. He desired to lord power over his brethren and so he used his dark arts to plot against them.

But one of the brothers, the Elder Longbraids, discovered the treachery of the wizard Greeve. And so it came to pass that six brothers turned against one; and they banished Greeve from the lands of Een.

To the north did the dark wizard journey, to the verdant plains, rushing rivers, and lush forests did he carry his wickedness. And there did he construct a temple, a deep underground maze that served as a terrible monument to his fiendish heart; and in that place the plants withered, the rivers shrank, and the great trees fell. That place became a wasteland and there, in that jumble of rock and ruin, did the heart of the wizard Greeve swell with hunger for revenge against his brothers.

 And so it came to pass that the Wizard Greeve devised a plot to triumph over the remaining Elders of Een. Each of them did he vanquish with his dark arts, each of them knew his dark heart—save for one. The lone survivor, the Elder Longbraids, fled to Een, his beloved land, his heart afflicted by his brother’s deed. And now did Elder Longbraids seal off the land of Een by the spell of the magic curtain, a great barrier he did create so that the land might be protected from the hideous monsters that came to skitter or crawl or slither across the wide earth. The  wizard Greeve, his heart was not soothed after exacting revenge upon his brothers. His hatred remains yet, in that wretched place, and all who trespass there come to know the curse of Greeve . . .

>>> But here’s the question: How do you teach voice?

Well, I’m not sure you can teach it. All I’m going to try and do is demonstrate what it is and coax my students into trying to explore their individual styles. One of the things I thought I could do is take the above myth and rewrite it in a different voice. So, here is the first part of the “The Legend of the Wizard Greeve” modernized . . .

Ages back, when there was sunlight and everyone in the land was feeling “lad-dee-da,” the Eens were feeling alright. Back then, there were these old fellas, seven of them, hanging out in this Elder Stone and they were all bros. For a long time they were just hanging out, ruling and everything, but then one of the fellas who went by the handle “Grendel Greeve” became wicked-bad. He was greedy and wanted some coin. So he tried to cheat his bros.

But then one of the bros, this fella with long hair that they called Leemus Longbraids, he was all like “get out of my face.” And so the six bros all agreed to chuck that jerk bro out of Een. 

Well, the new version needs some work. It’s not very consistent. That’s the problem with switching voice! It just isn’t easy. Maybe I’ll spend some more time on it . . . but really, I should get back to writing Kendra Kandlestar 5!

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2 thoughts on “Finding your voice

  1. One way is to have your students write a piece anonymously, display the pieces, and ask your students to guess the author. If they guess correctly it’s because of an identifiable voice.

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