Thursday, August 2, 2012

Got Voice?

If you're ever bewildered over what other writers are talking about when it comes to a writer's voice, you're not alone. It's one of those intangible x-factor things that's hard to describe, but you know it when you see it... err, I mean hear it. However, I have some tips that could help you find yours.

I'm sure we all have our own interpretation of what voice is. I think of it as a display of the author's personality on the page. Style plays into it, but that's not quite as distinctive because a lot of authors have the same "style," yet it's what they do with it that makes them different. Think of it like this: If a potato is style, then voice is a french fry.

Have you ever received a response to a query that says something like: "This is well written, but it lacks sparkle." Or "Though well written, I couldn't connect with the story." Or "Good writing, but the story felt flat to me." It's possible that what these responses are really saying is that the writer hasn't yet found his or her voice.

Can voice be learned? *Picture me waggling my hand like the wings of an airplane.* Not really. Can you learn to have personality? Like personality, voice is something that's developed over time, or in our case, over a massive abundance of words. And faking a voice, as in imitating another author, will sound, well, fake. You want to be authentic, the real you, that storytelling part of yourself that shouts "I'm unique" because that's what will sell you and your story.

It might actually be easier to explain how not to find your voice.

You know that internal editor that sits on your shoulder, flicking his pointy tail while wringing his hands and saying "nyah-ah-ah!" Tell him to take a hike, at least while you're writing your first draft. Invite him back when you're ready to get down to the nitty gritty of editing, as in after you're finished with the book.

Take down your protective walls and let yourself go. Seriously. Maybe even meditate a bit before touching fingers to keyboard. One of the most effective ways I found for tapping into my voice was by channeling my characters. When you wear your characters' skin, you turn on a switch that funnels the nuances of their personalities through your own psyche. It's their uniqueness that comes through you, and that's what can distinguish your voice as your own.

Beware of critique partners being overly helpful. When you have too many story cooks stirring your plot pot, you could end up with a tasteless stew. Trying to please everyone by making every change they suggest may make your prose squeaky clean, but it could also make it bland. Don't edit yourself out of your work. Always stay true to your characters and your story.

Is finding your voice the answer to selling your book? *Insert rude noise here.* I wish. A strong voice, just like a strong personality, will affect different people in different ways. It's often why contest scores have such a disparate spread between judges. What one judge likes the other one doesn't. What one agent likes, the other one doesn't. Voice will make you stand out, and that's actually a good thing, but it can be risky. My advice? Take the risk. It's totally worth it.


Amber Belldene said...

Great post! I found writing a few short stories in first person helped me find my voice. Nice warning about overhelpful critique partners too :-)

Diana Mcc. said...

Great info! I always learn something new by visiting your blog. :))

Melia Alexander said...

Great post, Karen! I find that when the internal editor goes away in the first draft, the characters do the most fascinating things. Of course, I wish it could be perfect, but it's definitely way better than what it would have been otherwise (because, yeah, I've written scenes that way, too).


Sarah Raplee said...

Fascinating post and i love the conversation in the comments!

I think word choice, especially verb choice, has a lot to do with developing your voice. The Word Thesaurus is your best friend!

How and when you choose to break the so-called 'rules' of writing is another key component. Breaking the 'rules' with purpose, to affect the reader in a certain way, give your dialogue authenticity, etc., requires mastery of craft. That's partly why voice takes time to develop.

Just my two cents' worth!


Sarah Raplee said...

karen, Please add Share buttons to your posts. I'd love to share a link and comment on Facebook and Google Plus, but couldn't see a way to do so easily.

Karen Duvall said...

Thanks, Amber! The overly helpful critique partners mean well, but as writers we must choose wisely when it comes to edit suggestions. Some critiquers tend to recommend how "they" would do something, and their recommendations aren't always correct OR they're subjective. You don't want your work sounding like someone else's. There's an art to critique, which I plan to cover in another post. :)

Judith Ashley said...

Thanks for sharing this interesting post, Karen. I've found I need to just write the first draft and then go back. I've been known to write a few sentences about the ideas I have for a scene when the rest doesn't just come.

I always feel so good when I reach the end of the story and actually look forward to going back through and fixing the dregs, reworking the story, and putting a polishing shine on it.

Karen Duvall said...

Thank you, Diana and Melia! :) Internal editors, external editors, ghost editors, et. al., need to scram during the creative process. They're services are not yet needed.

Karen Duvall said...

Thanks, Sarah! That's so true about breaking writing rules as long as the writer understands the rule they're breaking.

I added a share gadget to my blog layout. It's a new feature in blogger that I missed! In fact, there are a whole bunch of new gadgets I'd never seen before so I'm going to check those out, too. Thanks so much for pointing this out! :)

Karen Duvall said...

Thanks, Judith! Yes, the edits and rewrites can be tons of fun as you shape your story into what you want it to be. Your voice really comes through in that process as well.

Maggie Jaimeson & Maggie Faire said...

Great post! Voice is illusive--particularly when one is first starting out as a writer. You are so right about unique voices having a love/hate relationship. That is particularly true if you write humor or snark.

When I returned to writing novels, after a 20 year hiatus, I was very insecure in my ability and learning all the "rules." I let every critique partner line edit my work. It completely lost my voice. My manuscripts turned into written-by-committee scenes with no personality. Now, my rule for critique partners is don't touch my words at all! :) Instead tell me about problems with story, character, tension, description, etc. If my prose needs work, then say something like verb-tense agreement, shorter sentences/longer sentences, too much/too little description and leave it to me to determine how to make it better. I'll then rewrite and edit to fix those things I agree with and ignore the rest.

Karen Duvall said...

Great points, Maggie! When it comes to critique, it's a good idea to ask for a big picture critique and forego the line edits unless it's a glaring error that can't be ignored.

fpdorchak said...

Great post, Karen! I love posts on "the intangible"! Since I'm quite into things-Zen, I feel that is you allow it, the story will show you the best way to "tell" it (pardon the pun). I also feel, like throwing a ball (in that we don't use sights to throw, we learn by doing, instinctively how much effort to exert to throw a ball to another), that one's voice develops with writing, not so much trying to "target getting a voice." It will develop with one's ability. But, hey, that's just my two cents.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Karen
Excellent post. I remember too well struggling to understand voice. Then I realized I had it. We all do once we stop trying to be like someone else.