Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Rewriting the Middle School Me

Writing about my inner third grader feels natural. When I pick up a pen to become a character in this age group, it feels almost like I slip into my old third grade self.

Then a few months ago, the beginning of a novel came to me. And its main character is… a sixth grade girl.

Ugh! If there’s any age group I don’t want to slip back into, it’s the miserable experience that was middle school.

But, as the first few pages flew out of me, this character was almost me—and yet, I was rewriting the middle school me—with attitude. It was fun, while it lasted.

And then, the gush of words stopped.

I reread what I’d written, intrigued by this potentially new direction in my writing. (It’s definitely exciting to be writing something so incredibly outside my comfort zone!)

Some time later, I tried to continue where I’d left off. Uh oh!

My main character’s fun (and hopefully distinctive) voice was gone. It was replaced by a smooth but bland recounting of details and events. How could I recapture my middle school narrator’s attitude filled voice?

For many months, I didn’t. After a few unsuccessful attempts at revision, I simply abandoned the manuscript.

But then came my determination to set aside weekly writing time, and I was tempted to pull out this exciting and exasperating manuscript.

I stared at it in determined frustration. There had to be a way to recapture my narrator’s voice.

And seventeen revisions later, I think I may be on the right track. Now, I’m two chapters in and looking forward to submitting it to the group for feedback.

I should be happy. But writing this manuscript is so very hard. Nothing like slipping on my comfortable third grade self.

I’m excited but exhausted. Can I write a novel this way?

I’m curious, how do you all keep your narrator’s voice consistent over the course of an entire novel? Are there some “voices” that are easier (or harder) for you to capture than others???


  1. Aaahhh.....the elusive Voice! Whether it is a third-grade, sixth-grade, teen, 15th century, or 23rd century, finding your character's voice is the hard part. But also, for me, the fun stuff. I usually start with one character - it's not always the main character - but it's someone who "speaks" to me. When I start hearing them in my head, I know I've got to write about them (it's either that or check myself into Greystone). Keeping it consistent is always a challenge, but that's where the group comes in!
    I'm glad to hear you're trying something new and challenging your writing self. Can't wait to read it!

  2. To me, voice is about the most important element of exceptional fiction. It's also the hardest to get right. Jerry Spinelli, for example, does it well for a certain sort of male character.
    Kevin Henkes, in Olive's Ocean, gives us a female character we remember.
    When you get it right, editors swoon!

  3. For me, I have to "hear" it before I can write it. I actually hear the characters' words as I write them. I record the movie that's playing in my head. Now if only those darn characters could get it all right in one take! or two, or three, or four....

  4. At an SCBWI conference, years ago, I remember an esteemed panel member describing "finding your voice" by imagining a hot air balloon floating back through your life and seeing where it where it would land. Mine lands firmly in my teenage years. I worry about getting it right a lot. I write what I "hear" too. To keep myself true to this I sometimes take my characters along with me and put them in the situation I'm in and see how they react. I once took a set of characters to the State Fair and it was the one time they said..."umm, no way would we be here". And yes, my fear is that if I ever go senile I'll begin referring to them as people I really knew. I have a manuscript in the male voice put aside that became difficult for me. I applaud you for picking the "out of your comfort zone" manuscript up again. Am anxious to see where you take it!

  5. In my next book, I'm going to avoid this problem altogether by making my protagonist schizophrenic!