Peg366's Blog

Nathan Bransford’s Email Newsletter

Posted on: May 11, 2010

I have been working on building my skills in regards to pitching, when I came across this in my email. Nathan’s way of putting what “Voice” is resonated with me. Be sure to sign up for this email newsletter.
Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent‏
From: on behalf of Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent (
Sent: Mon 5/10/10 6:28 PM

Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent

Link to Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent

How to Craft a Great Voice

Posted: 10 May 2010 02:14 PM PDT

Voice is one of the most difficult writing terms to define and pinpoint. We might know it when we see it, but what’s voice made of, really? You hear so often that agents and editors want “new voices” and “compelling voices” and voice voice voice. So what is voice? How do you cultivate it? And how many rhetorical questions do you think can I fit into one post?

Voice, at its most basic level, is the sensibility with which an author writes. It’s a perspective, an outlook on the world, a personality and style that is recognizable even out of context. You could drop randomly into a David Sedaris story or an Ernest Hemingway novel and probably guess the author within a few paragraphs because they have strong, unique voices. An author’s voice is often imitated (think: Tolkien), but a truly original voice can never be duplicated.

So what makes a good voice? How do you cultivate one?

Among the essential elements:

Style: At its heart, voice is about style. And not just style in the sense of punctuation and how the prose looks on the page (though that can play a role), but style in the sense of a flow, a rhythm, a cadence to the writing, a vocabulary, lexicon, and slang the author is drawing upon. A voice can be wordy (William Faulkner) or it can be spare (Cormac McCarthy). It can be stylish and magical (Jeanette Winterson) or it can be wry and gritty (Elmore Leonard). It can be tied to unique locations (Toni Morrison) or it can be almost wholly invented (Anthony Burgess). But whatever the flavor of the writing, a good voice has a recognizable style.

Personality: A good voice has a personality of its own, even when the novel is written in third person. There’s an outlook that is expressed in a voice. It’s a unique way of seeing the world and choosing which details to focus on and highlight and a first draft of how the reader will process the reality of the book. Think of how CATCH-22 captured the absurdity of WW-II by boiling down irrational rules and presenting them at face value, or Stephen Colbert’s TV character, always seeing things and arguing from an invented perspective. There’s a tone to a good voice, whether it’s magical (J.K. Rowling) or slightly sinister (Roald Dahl) or hyper-aware (John Green).

Consistency: A good voice is consistent throughout a novel. It may get darker or lighter or funnier or sadder, but it doesn’t suddenly shift wildly from whimsical to GRUESOME MURDER. (Unless, of course, the voice is capable of it). A good voice is never lost when the plot shifts.

Moderation: Even the strongest voices don’t over-do it. Voices are not made up of repeated verbal tics (“You know,” “like,” “so I mean,” “I was all,” etc.) but are much more nuanced than that. They are not transcribed real-life dialogue, they give the impression of a real-life voice while remaining a unique construct.

Transportation: A good voice envelops the reader within the world of a book. It puts us in a certain frame of mind and lets us see the world through someone else’s perspective, and provides not just the details of that world but also gives a sense of the character of the world. Basically: see J.K. Rowling.

Originality: Above all, a good voice is unique and can’t be duplicated. It is also extremely contagious. And this is the hardest thing about starting off a novel: we have thousands of authors’ voices swimming around our heads, many of them quite powerful, and they are only too happy to take up residence in our current Work in Progress. But that’s okay! Don’t sweat it if it doesn’t come right away: We all have to find our voice, and one of the best ways to do that is to just write, even if what you’re starting with is derivative. You may need to keep writing until you find the voice. Just remember to revise revise revise the opening in said voice once you have it.

Authenticity: And this is the key to finding the voice: your voice is in you. It’s not you per se, but it’s made up of bits and pieces of you. It may be the expression of your sense of humor or your whimsy or your cynicism or frustration or hopes or honesty, distilled down or dialed up into a voice. We should never make the mistake as readers of equating an author with their voice, but they’re wrapped up together in a complicated and real way. We leave fingerprints all over our work. That part of you in your work is what makes it something that no one else can duplicate.

What do you think? What do you think makes for a good voice, and what are some of your favorites?


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I am an aspiring picturebook writer with some magazine credits just no picture book contract yet. I know it is coming and I am more than willing to work for it.

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July 2009

May 2010
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My Favorites:

I love the children's movies Wizard of Oz and the Neverending Story. Both movies make me feel the lesson that hope is alive and well. After seeing UP this past week, it just might have a chance at being added to this list.

I love the cool colors of blues and purples.Those colors are peaceful for me.

I love The Velveteen Rabbit. Even as an adult, I still feel the urge to cry when he becomes real. I know, silly, but a good book can make me laugh and cry as it takes me on a magical journey.

Authors and Illustrators:

Authors, Author/Illustrator, Illustrators that I know and/or Like.


C= Children

MG= Mid Grade

T= Teen

YA= Young Adult

A= Adult


Bonnie Adamson *

Kathi Appelt *

Tedd Arnold


Natalie Babbit

Molly Bang

Bonnie Becker

Jan and Stan Berenstain

Judy Blume

Tracey M. Cox

Linda Crotta Brennan *

Jan Brett

Janie Bynum *

Eric Carle

Pam Calvert

Nancy Carlson

Beverly Cleary

Kevin Scott Collier

Sharon Creech

Doreen Cronnin

Tomie dePaulo

Kate DiCamillo

Kathleen Duey *

Dotti Enderle

Jan Fields *

Denise Fleming

Mem Fox

Kelley Milner Hall

Amy Heist

Kevin Henkes

Ellen Jackson *

Jeff Kinney

Jackie French Koller

Ursula K. LeGuin

Leo Lionni

Lois Lowry

Mercer Mayer

Robert Munsch

Laura Numeroff

Linda Sue Parks

Dav Pilkey

Patricia Polacco

Peggy Rathmann

Bethany Roberts

David Shannon

Aaron Shepard

Donna J. Shepherd *

Cynthia Leitich Smith

Jerry Spinelli

Diane Stanley

Chris Van Allsburg

Rick Walton *

Lisa Wheeler

Mo Willems

Karma Wilson *

Audrey Woods

Jane Yolen *

Favorite Websites:

Favorite Blogs:

• ShelfTalker: A Children’s Bookseller’s Blog
• Alice’s CWIM Blog
• A Fuse #8 Production
• Cynsations
• Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent
• Editorial Anonymous
• Miss Snark’s First Victim
• Writing for children and teens

Favorite Quotes.

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