Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

What agents want: VOICE

What agents want: VOICE

I've been to so many writer's conferences, and retreats. And what every single agent says they want is Voice.

Voice: (Dictionary Definition)

• the distinctive tone orstyle of a literary work orauthor: she had strained and falsified her literary voice.

 • a particular opinion or attitude expressed: a dissenting voice.

It really doesn't matter what genre, or subject.





The market moves from dystopian to sic-fi to contemporary to vampires and zombies and back again. Some agents will say, "Dystopian isn't moving right now, so please don't send it." But, if a dystopian comes across their desk with VOICE, they snag it.

Do you know what VOICE means as a writer? You may think you do....and I think a lot of you think you do, because the query letters and the first pages I read at Andrea Brown lead me to believe you think you know what voice is. 

You don't.

Here's how I've come to think of VOICE:

Do you have a friend that no matter what the sentence would be, even if you didn't see who was talking, you'd be able to recognize it was he or she talking?

I have a friend who always says odd phrases like, "You're as cool as a cucumber." Or, "As witty as an owl." So anytime I see a text with some odd phrase I know it's her.

Do you think about things in a way that no one else does?

What do you think about a flower? Are they beautiful? Do they remind you of childhood, or do they remind you of coffins? Where does your mind go when someone offers you a rose? First date? Or death of your Grandfather? Or psycho stalker, who kept sending red roses to your front door?

In one manuscript I read, the author wrote about a flower box. She described it beautifully. Her writing was amazing....BUT it had no voice to it.

Example: (this is not her writing, so it's not as wonderful as hers was...)

The flower box at the top third story window, three stories up had magnificent purple violets aiming with all their might for the sunny skies above.


It's an interesting sentence, but it's fact. It's all fact, and nothing else. Yes. There is a flower box. It's at the top of the building. It has purple flowers in it growing toward the sun. 

Do you care? Should I care as a newbie agent looking at your work. Would I? NO! Because it has no voice....


Now if you write this instead:

The flower box at the top third story window, knocked the wind out of me. It was three stories up, too high for me to climb. I couldn't even think about putting my foot on a ladder, let alone attempt a 3-story assent. But it had magnificent purple violets, ones I hadn't seen since the dream, and the end of everything I ever knew that was real in this world. I wanted so badly to go back there, back in time, to that place before they came. I stared at the flowers. Were they real? Or was I imagining them? They were aiming with all their might for the sunny skies above, just like me. How I wish I could pluck just one and keep it hidden forever to remember. But being caught with a flower now was a crime. So who had them? And who displayed them so blatantly? I had to find out, and the door was open. 



This gives the reader more of a sense of the character and what a purple flower might mean to her. You get that she longs for the past. That she is afraid of heights, and that she is a little reckless or bold. 

I've noticed that a lot of new writers, or writers having written their first novel, write like journalists. They give a lot of facts in a beautiful way. And, it's great writing. But what they are lacking is voice.

Look at one of your paragraphs....and now rewrite it with how your character thinks, feels, sees the world. They see it differently than anyone else. Show us that. 

Do not list a bunch of descriptions.

Give your readers VOICE.

The other place I see a lot of first time novelists missing great places for Voice is dialogue. When your main character or another character is talking...what is your main character thinking?


"Jump!" she said.


"Jump!" she said. I figured it was another one of her games, but then a black snake slithered out from under the slide, and I started to trust her again. I shouldn't have.


Not every part of your dialogue needs a thought, but when it's a big one, one that you know your main character would be thinking about, you should let the reader read her thoughts. 


Here's an example of my own writing, and the lack of VOICE and then the addition of VOICE.

Which one do you prefer? 

THE LINK: (Middle Grade Fantasy Novel)

1st try:

I am freezing, tippy-toeing about ten feet behind my Uncle, in my bare feet, on the cold earth. Yes, my bare feet, no shoes, no hat, not even a jacket, I'm going to freeze to death, and he doesn't even care. I think he'd actually prefer me in nothing but deer pelts, but there was no way that was happening, even if they did bring out the red flecks in my green eyes. On the balls of my feet, I hop around wet leaves, sticks, slugs and small snails, trying not to cut my heels, or kill anything in the process.

"Seita Blakshak!" 

Revision 1:

If I took off now. If I ran as fast as I can, full speed, and jumped off the edge, I’d splat on the boulders below. My body’d break. An arm sticking out here, a leg bent over there. They’d find me weeks from now, mostly eaten away by coyotes. Only my eyeballs would be left to bury. The coffin’d be so small the pallbearer would carry it in one hand.  And, they’d use a spoon to shovel dirt over it.

"Seita Blakshak!" Uncle’s voice booms like a bear. 

I leap forward, trying to keep up even though I’m freezing. I tiptoe behind him, in my bare feet, on the cold, hard earth. No shoes, no hat, not even a jacket, I'm going to freeze to death, which wouldn’t be a bad ending, boring but painless. But that’s not the point. Uncle doesn't even care. He doesn’t care about anything not Indian.

He even wanted me to wear old deer pelts, like they used to do during ceremonies. There was no way that was happening, even if they did bring out the red flecks in my green eyes. That’s what Mom would have said, anyway. She would have wrapped those skins around me with a belt, braided my brown hair, painted my cheeks, and said how beautiful I looked. She could turn anything sour into sweet. Not this though. Not now. This is unfixable. No, I’m the unfixable.

"Faster," Uncle says.


Which one do you like better? Which one gives you a better sense of who Seita is?

I think the second one shows you more of Seita's voice. You know, the one inside her head. The one you don't let others hear in your life. But when you are writing, this is the voice you should be allowing others to hear. 

Readers want to get inside the head of your main character. They want to know their secret thoughts and feelings. Reading is the equivalent to spying. It should feel like the reader is overhearing or viewing something private, something not usually seen or heard.  

VOICE - you have a unique one. Your characters have one, now be brave and write it down.

Good luck!
As always,
Write~ on

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