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Voice Workshop with Agent Jill Corcoran

How to Improve Your Writing Voice and Characters’ Voices

Agent Jill Corcoran at the 2012 FL SCBWI Conference in Miami

Jill Corcoran talked about the difference between the author voice, which is in everything you write, and the manuscript voice, which changes according to things like tone, the target audience, and point of view.

She had us write a short scene with two characters from one point of view, then write it from the other.  It’s amazing how you can feel the difference.  Even better…this exercise can help with writer’s block! 

Character Voice

·       Make your characters distinct so you don’t always need to put in tags.   There’s a great way to test this—take the tags out of dialogue and see if you (or others) can tell who is talking.

·       Give each character something unique.  Weaving these little details in helps give dimension.

·       Readers fill in the gaps—you need to leave some white space.

Here are some other great suggestions from Jill:

·                       When you sit down and write, you don’t always have to write your book.  Just write anything.  It helps you find your voice, gives you space, and stops you from feeling pressured.  A bad day can affect your writing.  She said to strive for more than BIC…you want Butt In Quality Chair.

·       Read outside your genre.  This helps you see styles of writing that might be great for you.

·       Make dialogue count…especially when it’s up front.

·       Try to write three pages every morning before doing anything else.

·       Play around to find the right voice for your manuscript. You can try a different point of view, tone, day, attitude, etc. 

·       Think about where your book will sit in a bookstore, and keep that in mind when you revise.

Other notes:

Most picture books are not in 1st person because it makes them more universal.

Jill loves multiple point of view.

I loved listening to Jill critique first pages during her workshop and on the First Pages Panel.  She always has tons of fantastic advice to share.  Check out her amazing blog.  

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( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Donna Shepherd
Feb. 10th, 2012 10:41 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the great post with advice from Jill!
Feb. 11th, 2012 06:39 am (UTC)
Re: Thanks!
You're welcome, Donna.

Guess what I was looking at earlier? Photos of you and Clay Aiken (well, not together, but I was browsing through my Chautauqua pictures--it's been so long since I've looked at them). That was such an incredible week...and I loved hanging out with you!
Feb. 10th, 2012 11:51 pm (UTC)
What great advice! I know a lot of writers struggle with this one. Especially in the beginning of their career. Even after some time and going through a volume of work and characters a writer can still struggle, but I like to believe it gets a better over time, or at least it is simpler to recognize when we need to improve the voice in our manuscript. Thanks for blogging about this!
Feb. 11th, 2012 06:43 am (UTC)
You're welcome, and thanks for your sweet comment. I think the hardest thing about voice is that it's really difficult to teach. I especially love Jill's suggestion to play around with the POV, tone, etc. to find the right one for each manuscript.
Andrea Mack
Feb. 11th, 2012 12:50 am (UTC)
Thanks for the great post, Mindy. It sounds like a valuable session.
Feb. 11th, 2012 06:44 am (UTC)
You're welcome, Andrea. It definitely was an amazing workshop!
Feb. 11th, 2012 04:15 am (UTC)
I met Jill at the last SCBWI Editor's Day event in October. I also ended up eating lunch next to her with some other authors. I found her to be very knowledgeable and easy to approach. How cool that you were able to have a class with her. Jill has great advice. Did you check out the book THE PLOT WHISPERER? The author is her client. She mentioned it at Editor's Day and I purchased it. I love it!
Feb. 11th, 2012 07:29 am (UTC)
Yes--even before the conference I downloaded it on my iPad. I've been slowly making my way through it, and love her advice! I had tried to watch the videos, but between my hearing issues and all the background noise, it was hard to listen to everything Martha said.

And I agree--Jill is very knowledgeable and easy to approach. The critiques she gave for first pages were amazing, too!

Feb. 11th, 2012 04:18 am (UTC)
Some helpful reminders here! Thanks!
Feb. 11th, 2012 07:32 am (UTC)
You're welcome, Allison. :)
Feb. 11th, 2012 05:15 am (UTC)
Thanks for sharing. I would have loved to hear Jill talk. Glad you had a great time.
Feb. 11th, 2012 07:33 am (UTC)
You're welcome, Linda. I wish you could have been there, too.
Feb. 11th, 2012 04:22 pm (UTC)
Yeah, Jill's been my agent for over and year and while I've had great fun hanging out with her at SCBWI conferences, I've never heard her speak. It would have been worth a plane ticket to go.
Feb. 14th, 2012 02:27 pm (UTC)
I hope you'll be on a conference faculty with her soon, where you'll be able to hear her speak. She really did an amazing job!

I wish you had flown here for it...I would've loved to see you! One of these days I'll make it out to LA. :)
Feb. 12th, 2012 04:53 am (UTC)
Can't find where to 'follow' your blog....
Hi Mindy
I'm gradually getting around to following folk on all their social medis presences ... can't find how tot 'follow' you here.
Please do follow back.
Very best & Congrats on you exception ideas award!
Jennifer [JeRu]
Feb. 14th, 2012 02:41 pm (UTC)
Re: Can't find where to 'follow' your blog....
Hi Jennifer,

I haven't figured out how to have an e-mail follow, but I'm on Networked Blogs. I think this link will work: http://www.networkedblogs.com/user/1349807209

Do you have a link for me to follow your blog?

Feb. 12th, 2012 04:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this information, that's very kind of you. Finally, some reassurance on multiple point of view. I would love to meet Jill someday.

Rosie Pova
Feb. 14th, 2012 02:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Thanks!
You're welcome, Rosie. I hope you are able to meet Jill one day!

Good luck with your manuscripts. :)
Feb. 12th, 2012 10:52 pm (UTC)
Hannah Holt
Great tips. Thanks for sharing.
Feb. 14th, 2012 02:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Hannah Holt
You're welcome, Hannah. :)
Mar. 16th, 2012 02:51 pm (UTC)
Cynsational News & Giveaways
User cynleitichsmith referenced to your post from Cynsational News & Giveaways saying: [...] and Voice Workshop with Agent Jill Corcoran [...]
Mar. 16th, 2012 06:14 pm (UTC)
Re: Cynsational News & Giveaways
Thanks so much, Cyn!
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )


Mindy's head shot
Mindy Alyse Weiss
I write humorous middle-grade novels with heart and quirky picture books.

I'm an Administrator on the SCBWI Blueboard, the FL SCBWI Newsletter Editor and Critique Group Coordinator, and a proud member of From The Mixed Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors

I've been married for twenty years and have two beautiful daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix pup who was rescued from the Everglades.

I've been published in Highlights three times and placed in the 80th Writer's Digest Competition.


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