I subscribe to Guide to Literary Agents online, a newletter that always has good advice for writers. Today's article was about a book written by Blake Snyder, titled, Save the Cat. The point made in that book (and the article) is that a reader has to care about a character to hang around and find out what happens. Reading this was one of those "coincidence moments", because I had planned to blog about a book I'm reading now and just love.
The book I'm reading now is Billy Creekmore, by Tracey Porter, and I was charmed by Billy on the first page. He tells tall tales to anyone who will listen, and he thinks (or says) he can commune with spirits, even if he can't see them. The story opens in 1906, an era that interests me for my own book. (I am always on the lookout for a book set in the first 2 decades of the 20th century, so readers, please give me titles.) Once I started this book, I was on Billy's side immediately.
Billy lives in an orphanage when the book opens, and conditions are terrible and exploitive. But within a few pages you know that plucky Billy is going to rise above all this and have some grand adventures. It's Billy's voice that grabbed me. He may not always tell the truth, and he has bad grammar, but he's good-hearted, and his voice rings true. I'm about halfway through it, and already Billy's life is changing, but I don't want to be a spoiler and tell you how.
I couldn't help comparing it to another book I recently read. It's that matter of "voice". I believe in Billy. He's so real, I feel I could walk out my door and run into him on the street (even though it's 2010, and he's a century away.) Billy tells his story so naturally, it's as if there is no such thing as an author or narrator. You feel as if he's telling you personally his not-so-tall tale, and shaking his head at the wonder of it.
By comparison, the other book (which shall remain nameless, because I notice it's selling well, so kids do like it) had a "voice" problem for me. At least at the outset. I liked the story and the plot; and I grew to care about the character. But that took awhile, because for a few pages, his voice seemed "overdone" and it grated on me. I was too aware that a grown up was writing kid talk. It's a nuance thing, I suppose. Kids do talk the way the book character did, but not so noticeably. In Billy Creekmore, well, everything works. It just works. It's a great book, and I can't wait to get back to it.