Monday, October 5, 2009

Why Chicken Means So Much to Me (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian)

Hi Allyson,

Yes, I'm grabbed by that first line of the first chapter, too. It's reminiscent of that classic first line--"Where's Papa going with that ax?" Both these first lines plant a stick of dynamite under the reader and kick the story into high gear right out of the starting gate.

Now, onward to the next chapter. I’m always fascinated by voice. And I’m not the only one, as both Heather and Kimberlee commented that Junior’s voice comes through loud and clear, even from the first pages.

I’m always wondering: How does a writer capture the voice of a character? Alexie nails Junior’s voice. I can HEAR Junior talking. How does Alexie do this? One way, I noticed, is that Junior addresses me, the reader, directly. In general, I'm not a fan of "dear reader" asides, which I often find forced and distracting, but in Junior’s case I find it endearing to be addressed directly. It’s chatty. It’s conversational. It feels real. “Okay, so now you know that I’m a cartoonist.” I’m there, with Junior, watching him draw, on the rez. The narrator drags me into his story.

Kirby Larson, Newbery Honor winning author of Hattie Big Sky said, in a presentation for writers focused on voice, “using voice tics, like ‘yo, man,’ is one way of identifying your character’s voice.” And, by the way, did you notice how many sentences Junior starts with “and”? “And sure,” “And hey,” “And now,” just for starters, in the space of 4 paragraphs. That’s the rhythm of spoken language, of storytelling. That’s Junior’s voice.

Story Sleuths Tip #2: Read the story you have written and ask yourself: Is my storytelling voice fresh and unique?

Over to you, Allyson.