MG at Heart Writer’s Toolbox: Using Character-Specific Figurative Language to Enhance Voice


The MG at Heart team is happy to share our first mid-month post! This month, we’re analyzing the delightful voice in our January pick, Anna Meriano’s Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Magic, and considering what other writers can learn from it.

It’s easy to tell when a story has a great voice, but it’s not so easy to say why that’s the case. When the voice is especially strong, readers are invited right into the mind and world of the character whose point of view we’re following. There’s something special and vibrant about the rhythm, word choice, and personality of the narrative. Something wonderful . . . but a bit difficult to pin down.

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Because voice is an elusive concept, it can be a hard element for writers to work on. Some people even believe voice can’t be taught. But voice is all about specificity: the sense that we readers are getting a unique, fully-realized character’s account, and no other character would perceive or phrase things in quite the same way.

One thing writers can do to can enhance the voice in their stories is to figure out the specific lens through which the point-of-view character sees the world and then filter the character’s language choices through that lens. This is something Anna Meriano does masterfully in Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble.

The book is told from Leonora “Leo” Logroños’s point of view, and the third-person voice is absolutely charming, in part because of the way Anna Meriano uses character-specific figurative language to convey Leo’s thoughts and emotions.

If you’re reading the novel along with us, you know that Leo’s family owns a bakery and Leo desperately wants to help out as much as her older sisters do, especially after she discovers that her mother, sisters, and aunts are brujas who add magic to their recipes. Baking is an important part of Leo’s life, so it shapes the lens through which she sees the world. Here are some of the times when Anna Meriano uses baking-related figurative language to bring Leo’s voice to life:

“A plan started to rise like dough inside Leo.” (17)

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“Half worried from Caroline’s talk about secrets, half furious that she was being left out again, Leo felt her bad feelings swell like cake in an oven.” (21)

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“Mamá would be boiling-oil mad if she found out that Leo had left school without permission.” (22)

“Her brain felt like a stuffed empanada, with Mamá’s words oozing out the sides like guava jelly.” (24)

These examples work so well in part because the sentence structures are interesting and varied, and there are vivid verbs such as “ooze” and “swell.” But in addition, thanks to the baking language, these sentences help us get to know Leo and experience the world through her unique perspective. They convey emotions in an original way, without resorting to clichés. They are specifically and vibrantly Leo. “Boiling-oil mad” has so much more life and voice than just plain “mad.” And how brilliant and evocative is that empanada simile, which suggests the way Leo’s family’s culture shapes her worldview, as well?

If you’re joining us in reading Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble this month, see if you can spot more baking-related figurative language that enhances the strong voice, and please share other examples in the comments or on Twitter.

And if you’re writing something of your own or working with kids on their creative writing, you can ask this question: What passions, culture, and experiences shape the way your character sees the world, and how can these things impact the unique way the character might perceive and phrase things? We’d love to see examples of character-specific figurative language from your own work in the comments or on Twitter, as well!

Happy reading and writing, and make sure you’ve subscribed to the Middle Grade at Heart newsletter so you won’t miss this month’s edition, which goes out on January 29th and will include an author interview, an activity, a recipe, and other great content for Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble. And we look forward to chatting with you about the book on our Twitter book chat on February 6th!

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