The Writing Voice: M.T. Anderson

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Feed and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing

The importance of voice, the way a narrator or character speaks, is a topic that writers often discuss.  How do we make voice authentic?  How do we keep the voice consistent throughout a story? Does the voice go with the character? 

Have you ever read a book of fiction, and thought, “No five-year-old child would speak like that?”  It’s happened to me.  My appraisal of the author immediately drops several notches.  Or perhaps you’ve come across a dialogue that sounds stiff and unnatural, or a dull narrator?  The ability to write voice well requires talent and skill and a good ear.  M.T. Anderson has all three.

In his YA book, Feed, Anderson creates the voice of Titus, a teenage boy, living in a dystopian world.  Anderson even invents a futuristic vocabulary for Titus and his friends.

Chapter 1 Your Face is not an Organ

            We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.

            We went on a Friday, because there was shit-all to do at home.  It was the beginning of spring break.  Everything at home was boring.  Link Arwaker was like, “I’m so null,” and Marty was all, “I’m null, too, unit,” but I mean we were all pretty null, because for the last like hour we’d been playing with three uninsulated wires that were coming out of the wall.  We were trying to ride shocks off of them. So Marty told us that there was this fun place for lo-grav on the moon.  Lo-grav can be kind of stupid, but this was supposed to be good.  It was called the Ricochet Lounge.  We thought we’d go for a few days with some of the girls and stay at a hotel and go dancing.

Here is the ISBN summary for Feed:

In a future where most people have computer implants in their heads to control their environment, a boy meets an unusual girl who is in serious trouble.

In Feed, Anderson has a lot to say about our consumer society and marketing, and the benefits and costs of technology.

In Anderson’s novel The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Octavian’s voice is educated and observant, as befits a boy raised by scientists in Boston during the American Revolution.

I was raised in a gaunt house with a garden; my earliest recollections are of floating lights in apple-trees.

I recall, in the orchard behind the house, orbs of flame rising through the black boughs and branches; they climbed, spiritous, and flickered out; my mother squeezed my hand with delight.  We stood near the door to the ice-chamber.

Around the orchard and gardens stood a wall of some height, designed to repel the glance of idle curiosity and to keep us all from slipping away and running for freedom; though that, of course, I did not yet understand.

How doth all that seeks to rise burn itself to nothing.

The book description, in part, says:

… Set against the disquiet of Revolutionary Boston, M.T. Anderson’s extraordinary novel takes place at a time when American Patriots rioted and battled to win liberty while African slaves were entreated to risk their lives for a freedom they would never claim.  The first of two parts, this deeply provocative novel reimagines the past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.

Octavian Nothing, Volume 1 won the National Book Award.  Feed was a National Book Award finalist.  As well as being a master of voice, M.T. Anderson will also invite you to think.

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