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“Voice rises up out of who we are and it does little good to think about it when you’re writing.”   

…Marion Dane Bauer


            It’s an honor to have Marion Dane Bauer stop by the Tollbooth to talk about Voice. It’s hard to find someone with more experience—both as an author and a writing teacher. 


Marion Dane Bauer has published over 60 YA and middle grade books in a range of genres that include novelty books, picture books and early readers, as well as books on writing for children and adults.


She recently finished a picture book with naturalist/photograph Stan Tekiela titled The Cutest Critter, as well as a ghost novella for Stepping Stones/Random House The Golden Ghost.


And she’s currently at work on a prequel to her upcoming novella The Very Little Princess titled The Very Little Princess: Rose's Story, which I was lucky enough to hear her read from last night at Vermont College (Marion has been teaching at Vermont since the program’s inception.) Her reading was spectacular! (For more on the events this week at the Vermont College Residency visit Julie Larios’ blog.)


            I asked Marion a few questions about Voice, including where voice comes from and how writers can help their “performance” on the page.



Writers usually talk about two aspects of voice, one being the writer’s style and the other the voice of a particular story or character. What does voice mean to you? How do you approach these two aspects, style and character, as a teacher and a writer?  


Voice is a blend of a writer's individual style and character, every time. As a teacher I approach voice by encouraging writers first to inhabit their main character, to climb inside his skin, look out through her eyes, think with his thoughts, feel with her feelings. Beyond that, I try to teach craft, which is usually just learning the smoothest, most effective way to make your story work for your readers. When the two come together, you have voice.



Are we born with a voice, much like a singer is born with the gift of song? Or is voice developed through reading and the practice of writing? What advice do you have for writers about developing their voice?


I don’t think we are born with our voice. It does come, as you suggest, through reading and the practice of writing. I do think, however, that our voice rises up out of who we are and that it does little good to think about voice when you are writing.


Concentrate on knowing your character. Your perceiving character will impact your voice in every story even when you are writing in third person. And concentrate on writing the very best you can. Voice will simply be part of the package. You will know you have fallen into the voice that is right for you when you can feel the energy behind the words. When on revising you know, without having to ask yourself why, what should stay and what should go, when there is a flow that carries you. 


In your online journal you wrote about waiting for the voice of a new story to hit you, waiting for that “rush of energy.” Can you talk more about this? Is this a mysterious process to you? And are there ways that you can help this voice come through?


Sometimes reading other writers helps me find the voice inside my head that is going to blossom into a new story. I often won’t know what it is I read that is impacting me, but something in the flow and energy of another writer's words will send me to my own.


Often walking helps. I keep coming back to my story idea, again and again, when I'm walking my dogs or doing other mechanical tasks. What I'm waiting for is for the opening line to sing for me.


Once I have my character and my character’s problem and know where I'm headed—the climax and its emotional resolution—I carry it all around until the language begins to form, and I'm ready to begin writing. Only then will I know it’s my story to write.




Which of your books took off in a rush of voice? This can be such a powerful feeling, but is there a downside, perhaps when revising? Have you ever “lost” a character’s voice part way through a project?


Especially picture books do that. I can’t begin to write a picture book until the rhythm and voice of the opening lines are in my mind. I almost ruined my ability to write picture books by doing too many very heavily metered rhyming texts. For a while, I couldn't get outside that pattern into the more free flowing patterns I prefer to use.


Runt was a novel in which voice was very important to me, because it opens with a lyrical narrator, and the sound of that narrator made the story for me almost as much as the story's content.


I used that narrator again, though in a much more wry way, in The Very Little Princess. Now that I'm writing another story in the Princess series, I'm concerned that the voice not become too self conscious. It was very natural to start with. It simply flowed out of me. Now, while I'm having fun with it, I'm feeling concerned about not getting heavy handed.



When you give readings at VermontCollege, like the one you did last night, the audience is so quiet you can hear a pin drop. It feels as if you’re holding us in the palm of your hand. Writing is so solitary, yet there is a real performance quality to a book when you add an audience, even an audience of one. Can you talk a bit about voice and its relation to this “performance” aspect of writing?


I always write to read out loud. Sometimes I sound out the words as I’m writing in order to hear them. More often these days I can sound them in my mind without having to speak them. But that is the key to being able to “perform” a story. Every line needs to be written for sound as well as for meaning.


Thank you Marion!

Marion will be the visiting writer at the Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Workshop on “Vision and Voice” this August.  




( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jul. 15th, 2009 12:33 pm (UTC)
Wonderful post, Zu. I can hear Marion's voice as she clearly and calmly shares her wisdom at the Toolbooth..
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )