Archives for posts with tag: Saul Steinberg

Voice as Character

I of III

In many ways voice comes down to character whether we are referring to characters in a story or the author/narrator telling the story. Voice is communication and the desire for connection between people. This connection may be face-to-face or leap over years and miles through reading.

A character’s dialogue and action are guided by back-story, but primarily by her immediate wants or needs of the other characters. If a character has no needs or wants why is she in the story? So…what do we, as writers, want or need from our readers? What does our narrator’s voice reveal about us?

As writers and storytellers our primary “want” is capturing and keeping the attention and emotions of our audience. Even if our desire is to do something supposedly more important than keeping their attention such as teaching them something we need answer this reality: How can you teach or inform anyone unless you have their attention? The vital next question is: What are we doing to achieve that “want” of keeping their attention? Volume? Tone? Attitude?

If we encounter resistance to achieving our want in life, we eventually learn that the best tactic is to try another approach. Then another and another. As picture book writers we want the same toolbox of approaches. And, to always being aware of what our storyteller’s voice reveals about us. Warm? Comical? Demanding? Bossy? Scolding? Condescending? Playful? Challenging? Most of all, is it a voice eager to share an experience with an equal?



 We’ve all felt the warmth of a kind voice, the burn of a scolding voice, and the confusion of a dithering voice. We also know which of these voices kept our attention. Our readers also experience this interaction thanks to the array of picture books today. Later this month we’ll explore the range of voice on two levels. First, the voice of the narrator toward his audience. Second, the differences between a child’s voice and an adult’s voice in fiction.

I’ll be away the next three weeks, but wanted to leave you these wonderful visualizations of voice by Saul Steinberg. Do we write to confuse? To overwhelm? Or connect?

THE CATALOGUE by Saul Steinberg. World Publishing, 1962.

Replacing the Inner Critic

Writers in all genres battle with their “inner critic.” Some writers spend so much time lamenting and discussing their inner critic they have little time left to write. Many writers also talk about getting rid of their inner critic, but fail to explore possible replacements.

For myself, the opposite of the dastardly “inner critic” is the nurturing “inner editor.” In other words, creating my own version of the ideal editor. Two drawings by master artist/cartoonist, Saul Steinberg, offer a visualization of both sides of this writers’ coin.

Inner Critic

* Doubting

* Undermining

* Snide

* No way to please

* Second guessing your every word and move


Inner Editor

* Encouraging voice as he/she also challenges

* Doesn’t tell you what to write, but asks vital questions that help YOU discover what to do

* A supportive and curious energy moving toward a richer creation

* Eager to read and examine your efforts

* Honest when it comes time to say “I believe you can do a better job.”

* Literary cheerleader who is not impressed by your ego’s need to be loved


If you have the power to generate an “inner critic” you also have the power to generate your ideal “inner editor.”


THE CATALOGUE by Saul Steinberg. World Publishing, 1962.

THE COMPLETE CARTOONS OF THE NEW YORKER edited by Robert Mankoff. Black Dog & Leventhal, 2004.