A fresh voice...that's what we're talking about...that intangible, elusive quality in a novel that all the editors say they’re looking for. Do you have that fresh voice? Do you have an identifiable writing voice?
To start, let's not confuse voice with style. Voice is what you say. Style is how you say it. But you can’t have one without the other. Style is a part of our writer’s voice and both are totally individual and unique. I like to think of voice and style as ingredients in a recipe that when combined become one entity –- a delicious meal to be consumed ravenously.
But, it’s voice we’re talking about. Your distinct writer’s voice is you...it’s your defining way of thinking and speaking...it’s individual and unique...it’s your personality on paper, and it’s recognizable the moment a reader delves into one of your books.
If you’re not one of the lucky ones who have a natural voice and style that crackles and sings and floats down from some heavenly muse the moment pen meets paper...or fingers meet the keyboard...then you might want to listen up. The truth is, in the beginning, most of us are more concerned with creating the story and learning our craft. We focus on the important stuff first and we’re not even thinking about some elusive quality that seems to have no definition whatsoever. But there’s no escaping it. Sooner or later, we have to find our voice, coax it out, and then develop it.
How important is voice when everything else in the story is as good as you can make it? Well, consider this-–voice is the first thing an editor notices when she picks up your query letter, synopsis, or first page to read. Readers notice it the moment they start reading. We can make that first sentence, that first paragraph, and that first page as interesting as we can, and yet, in the end, if there is no unique voice--if the prose sounds like anyone in the room could’ve written it--the story will feel flat and lifeless. Voice is king! Books with a great voice are forgiven many sins. Not that you want to be a sinner, but you get the idea.
And by now, I bet you want me to shut up and tell you how you can find your writer’s voice. Okay. Here are a few tips that might help.
1. Before you begin writing for the day, warm up with some free writing. Just go with the flow, write about anything that’s on your mind…for 2 or 3 minutes. Keep your fingers on the keys or pen to paper.
2. Forget making your manuscript perfect. Yes, grammar is important, but that’s what revisions are for. Too many times beginners looking for perfection edit their voice right out of the manuscript.
3. Write like you talk. Yeah, that’s right. Just lay it out there. We all have our personal patterns of speech, our favorite words and phrases. Look at some of the emails that you’ve sent a best friend and you’ll see what I mean.
4. Put the tape recorder on when you’re talking on the phone to a friend. That’s you, that’s the person you want on paper. No one else in the world thinks exactly like you. There’s no right or wrong. You’re unique. Can your voice and style be off-putting? Sure. But that’s something for you to decide and work on during revisions. The important thing is to get your voice out there. Then refine it.
5. Write what you know. Yes, I know, you’ve heard that one a million times, but maybe not the reason. When you write what you know, you have feelings about it…emotions… and those feelings will come out in your natural voice. Voice is your passion. Style is how you carry it off. I’ve heard that the best essays students write are always about their mothers, and it’s easy to see why. Everyone has strong feelings about their mothers, one way or another.
6. Read your work out loud and if you stumble over some words, so will the reader. If you’re writing naturally in your own voice, you shouldn’t stumble.
7. When writing the first draft, don’t-overanalyze. Edit carefully, but don’t over edit the life out of it. Go for passion over perfection.
8. Remember, your word choices are part of you. They should be natural and pleasing to you, not a critique partner or anyone else. (except the editor) Be ruthless when cutting, but be kind to your voice.
9. Rewrite an excerpt of a favorite author’s work in your own narrator voice… then try it with your main character’s voice. (hint...they should be different)
Hmmm. It seems like there should be ten points here, doesn't it, but nine is what I ended up with. C’est la Vie.
Okay, here’s a fun one for practice right now, right this minute. Go to my blog at