Today, we have literary agent Mackenzie Brady of New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. on the blog. She’s here to discuss the craft of writing. Thanks, Ms. Brady, for being with us today.
AN: Sometimes, an agent/editor will reject an author’s manuscript because they feel that they didn’t connect with the author’s voice/it wasn’t strong enough. How do you define voice in fiction? And do you have any tips for a writer about how to make their voice stronger?
MB: Creating an original or captivating voice is probably the hardest element of writing to master. This is mainly because voice is ridiculously subjective. Just think about the people you’ve met in your life. Certain individuals just have a way of speaking that excites you or makes you laugh – maybe it’s an accent or quirky turns of phrase or the way he or she tells a story – that others simply do not. This varies person to person. What enchants me will not necessarily enchant you or other readers. This is the most frustrating thing about creating a voice, so take my advice with a heavy heaping of salt.
When crafting (or strengthening) a voice think first and foremost about WHO that person is. The character’s intelligence level, place of residence, age, interests, social aptitude, etc should all come through in or affect his/her voice. If the character is a 15 year old, slightly awkward boy who loves insects and lives in Mississippi, for example, he might constantly use metaphors relating to a specific insect indigenous to the area to explain things (in a drawl, of course). His humor might be a little more on the scientific side, too. Whether he is narrating or speaking, his voice should remain true to this personality.
AN: Another common reason for rejection is not connecting with the author’s characters. What makes a reader care about an author’s characters? How can a writer make their characters stronger?
MB: Readers care about characters that they can understand and relate to in some way. Even the most evil characters can generate sympathy if the author presents him/her in an accessible way. So, the first step is to create a character that feels like a living, breathing, feeling person. All characters should have personalities, hopes, and fears, but more importantly, they should also have idiosyncrasies. So, think carefully about the little details that make up a person and use them to shed some light on the moments or traits that give that character his/her humanity. Then, once you’ve fully conceived of this character, hit him/her with a conflict that is (thematically) familiar to the reader. While all readers will not be intimately familiar with the feelings associated with a divorce, for example, they will understand vulnerability, loss, love, grief, etc. It’s these feelings that allow readers to connect with characters who may or may not be like themselves.
AN: There’s a lot of talk about “high concept” fiction lately. Can you define it for us? Do you feel that it’s become more and more important for books to be high concept?
MB: You know, I’m actually hearing more and more that the concept is becoming less important and that the writing is now paramount (yay!). With publishers now coming up with a lot of ideas in-house, it’s the storytelling and the creation of lovable characters that authors alone can bring to the table. That’s not to say, of course, that authors don’t also have excellent ideas of their own that publishers are interested in. But, concept aside, I think what everyone is after these days is the ability to make readers feel as though the novel they are reading is as true as anything they’ve ever known or felt.
AN: As an agent, you see a lot of manuscripts from beginning writers. If there was one area you could tell a writer to focus on, to work toward improvement in, what would it be?
MB: Hmmm, this is a toughie since all beginners have their own strengths and weaknesses. But, if I had to recommend one thing, I’d say take your time and find both your voice and your story. It can take 10, 20, or 50 drafts to figure out exactly who the important characters are and what the central plot should be. Don’t be discouraged if it takes you a while to figure it all out. Find critique partners that you trust and that you think will help you grow and listen to them. Work, work, work to find the real story that’s burning inside you and then write it.
You can follow Ms. Brady on Twitter here.