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Life on the Deckle Edge

VOICE LESSONS with Irene Latham


Poetry buffs who frequent this blog know about Poetry Friday regular Irene Latham – her COLOR OF LOST ROOMS (2010) was a National Indie Excellence finalist and winner of the 19th Annual Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Award. She just sold her first collection of children's poems, DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST, set at an African watering hole, to Millbrook Press/Lerner. Look for it in the fall of 2014! Irene has been poetry editor of the Alabama Arts Journal since 2003.

She’s also an accomplished novelist. LEAVING GEE’S BEND (Putnam, 2010) won the Alabama Library Association 2011 Children's Book Award and was a SIBA Book Award finalist. Her new novel, DON’T FEED THE BOY (Roaring Brook, Oct. 2012), is soon to be let loose!

At the SCBWI Southern Breeze fall conference in Birmingham in October, Irene is presenting a workshop on that elusive, crucial, desired-by-any-editor element of a story: voice. She was kind enough to drop by today and give us a sneak peek.

Take it away, Irene!

Confession: when I sold LEAVING GEE’S BEND, I thought “editing” meant someone somewhere sending my words through some fancydancy spell-check program. I really had no idea how to revise.

Guess what I learned?

The best and quickest way to educate oneself about editing and revision is to actually DO it. And what I’ve found in the years since is that for me, revising is most successful if taken in stages. By which I mean, I read over the manuscript multiple times, addressing one specific issue during each pass.

I generally start with plot, because that’s easiest (for me). Then I move to character arc – one pass for each major player, then another pass for supporting characters. Then, eventually, I move to voice. It’s during this pass that the magic happens: ordinary words take on flavor and personality. Dialogue quirks emerge. Similes and metaphors become consistent with the character. Gone are the modern words in a historical piece, while invented words manifest themselves in a fantasy piece.

One of the best ways I have found to teach about voice is to show examples of writing without voice. Take, for instance, the first line from a household favorite book FEED by M. T. Anderson.

line STRIPPED of voice, by me:

“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon was boring.”

actual line, written by M.T. Anderson:

“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”

That, fellow readers and writers, is VOICE.

Want to learn more? Come to the SCBWI Southern Breeze region annual Writing and Illustrating for Kids conference in Birmingham, Oct. 20. (There’s an optional novel intensive Oct. 19.) Here’s the official description for my workshop:

Voice Lessons: Revising for Voice

Got a book with great plot, characters, but no distinctive voice? This workshop provides revision techniques and advice on how to create a voice that’s authentic and memorable. *Attendees should bring at least one page up to an entire chapter of a work-in-progress to revise.

Handout includes a list of strategies, a voice-revision checklist and three before/after excerpts to illustrate effectiveness of the suggested techniques.


Sounds terrific, Irene! Thanks for the preview.

To learn more about Irene and her books, check out her website and blog.

And to register for the Writing and Illustrating for Kids (wik) fall conference in Birmingham , click here.

Hope to see you there!
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