A monthly column by Anthony D. Fredericks
Last month we talked about creating your voice in nonfiction. I shared with you some powerful ways to build communication bridges with your readers—principally by reading your writing aloud. This month we look at another aspect of the nonfiction writer’s voice—personality. Truth be told, there is as much personality in a book about a specific scientific concept or historical event as there is in a fictional tale about a gang of superhero kids who save the world. Or, there should be.
Look at these two sentences:
- “Henry Brown wasn’t sure how old he was. Henry was a slave. And slaves weren’t allowed to know their birthdays.”
—Ellen Levine, Henry’s Freedom Box (2007)
- “Once, your old-timey grandfather lived in a village by a fine flowing river, across a wide, deep ocean, in faraway Africa.”
—Margot Theis Raven, Circle Unbroken: The Story of a Basket and Its People (2004)
As you read each sentence above you’ll note that each is quite different in terms of language, style, and execution. Yet both are the opening sentences in stories about slavery—one about a slave boy and his escape to freedom, the other about generations of slaves and the unique baskets (and the stories they told) woven in South Carolina. The themes are similar, but the depiction of the theme is very different in the hands of two engaging storytellers. Each voice is unique . . . and each voice conveys a personality that is exclusive, distinctive, and compelling.
How can you achieve personality in your nonfiction? Simple—read a lot. Nonfiction, joke books, teenage romances, dystopian novels, poetry collections, science fiction, humor, fantasy, and nature books. Before I begin a new manuscript, I fill my head with business books, natural history tomes, archeological reports, historical fiction, humor, and travelogues. I’ve discovered that the more I saturate my mind with the characters, styles, and language of an eclectic assembly of literature (frequently out of my “comfort zone”), the more I have to pull from in crafting a specific view of the world.
|“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
By making reading a natural and normal part of your writing regimen, you may well discover a voice that resonates—particularly one that resonate with kids:
- You’ll learn that a more conversational style of writing—one that invites the reader to learn something, rather than telling readers what they should learn—is both comfortable and authentic.
- The more you read a particular author the more you’ll hear her voice. So, too, will you learn much about her personality. It’s similar to chatting with a friend over a couple of cappuccinos.
- You’ll see how an author’s voice is reflected in her vocabulary, her cadence, her syntax, and her dialect. Some of the best writing is talk transcribed.
- You’ll find a rhythm you’re comfortable with—one that conveys perspective as well as personality.
- Like me, you’ll learn that how you talk with kids is also how you should write for kids. In conversations with youngsters, we don’t use big words, a complicated syntax, or long lines of compound-complex sentences to make our point. Reading other books teaches us that how we say something is just as important as what we say.
Voice is personality in print. Who you are, what you believe, and how you think comes through loud and clear in what you write. Get a sense for how other authors make this happen naturally and you will discover some true magic for your nonfiction writing.
|AN INVITATION: If you have not already done so, please consider signing up for the 27th Annual SCBWI Pocono Mountain Retreat on April 12-14, 2019. I’ll be there to share some insights on nonfiction writing (“The Three Voices of Nonfiction”). This fast-paced workshop will include a rich medley of dynamic strategies to invigorate your writing. Also included will be loads of laughter, lots of interaction, and great handouts. Free books, too! Come and get “energized!”|
Tony is an award-winning author of more than fifty children’s books. In addition, he authored Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (Blue River Press, 2018). Most important, he is a grandfather to Lara Wells Fredericks (born January 14, 2019).