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Story Chat Radio, December 2019 - Voice


On this episode, we are discussing the animated superhero film, Spider-Man:Into the Spider-Verse. And then we’ll end with a critique of one lucky author’s query.


Summary of this month’s movie:

Bitten by a radioactive spider in the subway, Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales suddenly develops mysterious powers that transform him into the one and only Spider-Man. When he meets Peter Parker (the Spider-Man that most non-comic book readers are familiar with), Miles soon realizes that there are many others who share his special, high-flying talents. Miles must now use his newfound skills to battle the evil Kingpin, a hulking madman who can open portals to other universes and pull different versions of Spider-Man into our world. We meet several versions of Spider-Man from alternate realities, and each one has its own identity, including a unique animation style.


Jeni: That mixing of animation styles makes for such a visually interesting movie, and it’s one of my favorite things. What did you think about Spider-Man:Into the Spider-Verse?


Carly: Oh my god, I love this movie so much. If anyone read my live-tweeting, I basically gushed the whole time. The art style is PHENOMENAL. The music is PHENOMENAL. The writing is PHENOMENAL. I connected with so many of the characters, it was ridiculous. The art style showed the comic book roots while combining it with the graffiti art-style of Miles. And a friend told me recently that the composer live-scratched the music along to the movie so that every note hit just right. They basically transferred the orchestral track to vinyl so that he could do this. That attention to detail is what really makes this movie impeccable to me.


Jeni: I remember when I saw the trailer, and I was like, really, another Spider-Man reboot? But this movie is so much better than that. I really second everything Carly said. And what really struck me is how personal this story is for the characters. The family ties are so strong that it means really no other characters could participate in this plot and it tell this story. I could honestly spend this whole podcast fangirling. But I won’t. I guess. So what does this movie do well that writers can use in their writing?


Carly: Voice, 100% is what this movie does well. Voice is one of those ineffable words that gets thrown around a lot, but can be difficult to define. Basically, a writer’s voice is the writer on the page. It is YOUR personality, your view of the world, your perspective. How do you as a writer talk? Part of it can be in the style of your writing, the types of sentences you use, but mainly in the cadence of your writing. It is all about your personality as a writer. Now this is different from a character’s voice, which is all about the character’s personality and how that differs from the writer. A lot of times, the two can overlap or be confused, especially when the piece is written in 1st person, where everything is from the perspective of the main character. But there is is distinct, difference. And writers need to find their voice first, before melding it with the voice of their characters.


Jeni: Right and watching movies can be helpful when you’re studying voice. I’ve talked to a lot of authors who say their characters talk to them. When you watch a movie, you actually get to hear the characters talk. When you pay attention, you can see differences in how the various characters speak. Their word choice, the things they talk about, how they show us who they are through their dialogue. When you watch a movie to study voice, ask yourself what you learn about each character. A fun exercise can be writing a short piece in that character’s voice and seeing how it matches up to the movie. This can be a great way to start to understand the impact voice has on a reader’s understanding of and connection to a character.


Carly: The great thing about this movie is how quintessentially Miles it is. Everything from the main art style to the music is all about him. It shows his age, his background, his interests. Now, the movie has an advantage here with the art and the music that isn’t so obvious in writing, but you can learn from the movie how every bit of detail feeds into the narrator/ main character’s voice. When Miles sings along to the music, we very much get to see who he is. These small moments show us the teenager within. His embarrassment when his dad insists he says “I love you” in front of his school, is exactly him. Miles does say it, because he is a sweet loving kid, but the utter embarrassment shows his age. Miles runs around this movie in over his head. But he is always eager and kind. He is trying his best at all times. No matter what life throws at him, he is true to himself. And we get to see him grow through all of that. But through that growth, we really get to see his voice and who he is. His voice doesn’t change as much as it becomes more himself as he becomes more comfortable with himself. That juxtaposition of character growth with personality is where we see his voice.


Jeni: So I think my favorite aspect of this movie is all the different Spider-Mans. We start out seeing Peter Parker, who’s the one from all the live-action movies. Then we meet Miles and see his original story. But there’s also Peni Parker, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Ham, Miles Morales, Peter B Parker (who’s another, sadder version of the Spider-Man we all know and love) and Spider-Man Noir. What makes them all work is that they all have their own unique animation style and character voice. So, Miles is like any teenager who lives in New York, and his voice reflects that. Spider-Ham is SO CHEESY, and I love it. I mean, his name is Peter Porker. That character would have to be cheesy, right? Peter B Parker is a little older and has had some really bad stuff happen in his life, and it comes through in his voice--his dialogue reflects that disillusionment. Spider-Man Noir is just what he sounds like--like a hard-boiled film noir detective, down to the Humphrey Bogart-style voice. Each character having such a different speech pattern and view on the world as reflected in their dialogue really sells the audience on all these different versions of a character we all thought we knew.


Carly: Exactly. Those distinctive voices really exemplify how voice can be done well. I think authors get stuck in their own head and everyone ends up sounding the same. What I tend to recommend is to write a passage as yourself. Put everything you are into that passage. That is YOUR voice. Now write that same passage as your character. What would be different? How has their background, situation, experiences, changed how they view the world compared to you. Who are they? What music do they like that you hate? What relationships do they have that color their thoughts? All of these things lead into a voice and personality. Watching this movie can really show how different experiences and backgrounds can shape similar characters into completely different people.


Jeni: OK. This month, we have a query letter critique for a Young Adult fantasy manuscript. The hero is a teenager who gains powers, and it’s even more fitting that we see this query for this episode because, oh, man is it voicey! What did you think, Carly?


Carly: Agreed! It is very voicey, and I love that. My biggest criticism is that it is a little long. I think we get bogged down in details and names, instead of focusing on the major stakes and conflict. I think tightening it up a bit will make it shine even more. There is a lot of set-up that needs to be explained, but I think if we focus more on the action and less on the set-up, we’ll be better served. This query uses humor to show the voice of the manuscript, which is very teen-angsty, with the use of “suck” throughout. But three of the set-up paragraphs should be condensed into one.


Jeni: I struggled with all the names and set up as well, and it feels like some of the details might be the “wrong” details, which might be contributing to the author’s need to make it long. It seems like 250-350 words is the sweet spot for most queries. What I mean by “wrong details” is that some details make me ask more questions rather than clearing up my confusion. To determine what the right details are, start by focusing on the conflict and stakes, like Carly said, then ask what the reader really needs to know to understand the stakes and conflict and stick to those details. Save everything else for the synopsis.


On our next podcast, we will be discussing the horror movie, A Quiet Place, We will also have another query or blurb critique. If you want your query featured on the podcast, you can find the details about how to do that on our Twitter page.

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