Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Voice (Part I): Finding Your Voice

If someone handed you a book and told you to read without looking at the author's name, would you be able to tell who it was?

I could dump all my books into one big pile, pick one at random for you to read aloud, and I could tell you who wrote it. Why? Well, first of all, they are my books and therefore, from my favorite authors. Most importantly, however, I've learned to tell each of those favorite authors apart by their writing 'voice.'

Take Susan Elizabeth Phillips for example. (One of my all time faves!) Her characters are usually witty, charming, and her stories are always as funny as they are deep. There is not a book I've read from her where the characters aren't stuck in some unfortunate, or perhaps fortunate, situation that calls for humorous banter.

I went to the library the other day and picked a novel at random, flipping through the pages and reading here and there so I could get an idea if I'd like to read it or not. It was one of those three-fer--three lovely romances by three lovely authors. Though, I didn't glance at the names right away. As I read, one of the stories caught my attention in an instant. Yes, I looked at the front cover to see if I was right (which I was!) but honestly, I didn't have to. I knew it was Robyn Carr from the very first paragraph of her short story. Her way of paying attention to even the tiniest details, and love of realistic story settings is unmistakable.

But what is author voice??

Well, I typed in above question (minus the but) in a search engine and guess what I figured out? It seems that there are a LOT of definitions out there and yet it's hard to find one that is 'just right.' Frightening, isn't it? We work so hard to get everything right, down to the punctuation in our query letters, and now we have to figure out what the hell this 'voice' of ours is supposed to sound like so we can get it down as well.

We all have a voice. In fact, if you're a blogger you can probably tell what that voice is just by going back and reading some of your previous posts. Who we are in reality often has a great effect on the way we write and the tone we take in our stories. It's the way we our turn a phrase, the words we choose to say certain things, why we choose them, and our overall style of telling a story.

My voice is often sarcastic--I like to think witty--and full of humor. It doesn't matter what the plot, character, or subject is--if I wrote it, you can be sure to notice it's mine. Yeah, my stories might have some heavy subjects in them sometimes and pretty strong characters, but they will never be filled with elegant details or fluffy makes-me-weak-at-the-knees, heroes. Why? Because I can't escape who I am and being sarcastic, funny, and yeah...sometimes a little snark...is who I am. That's the beauty of author voice--It's already in us! We just need to figure out what it is and own it!

How do you find your voice?

I so wanted to write horror. In fact, one of my very first novel writing attempts was a horror. I know what you're thinking--Oh no!  Ha ha, oh yes.

I started writing something dark and terrifying and bloody. Or so I thought. What ended up happening was a very frightening murderer making sarcastic comments where he should have been serious, inserting funny dialogue when there should have been people screaming, and getting a little nauseated when trying to describe the insides of a human body oozing out on the concrete. I also had the guy (the murderer, keep up) falling in love with his victim and actually trying to change his ways.

So I stopped halfway through and moped about it for weeks until I got over my failure and picked up a pen to write again. This time, I decided to write a romance. Guess what? I practically melted onto the page. Here was a genre where humor and snark were welcome with open arms! I didn't have to work so hard to get the right feel anymore--I was free to unleash my funny bone while doing what I loved.

The problem that comes from not knowing your own voice is that sometimes we try to imitate someone elses.
"I want to write books like..."
"I think my voice is like..."
Be very careful not to let who you want to write like or think that you write like, take over what your true voice is. You are who you are, so be the best at it. Trying to imitate will always leave you looking like second best. You can't change your voice but you can hone it. Keep it from getting out of control, or strengthen it so it shows more. And we do it all by--what?--writing! Write, write, write!

So here is my challenge to you:  Take a moment to think about who you are.
Are you serious or carefree? Do you find humor where most don't or do you lean toward viewing things in a more darker perspective? Are you blunt and honest or more politely reserved? Would you be more prone to follow that mysterious stranger to scream "Boo!" and then run off screaming? Or would it be to stalk him?

How would you describe your author's voice?

16 comments:

  1. Aw..but your Royce definitely makes readers weak at the knees. Though fluffy he is not. I really enjoyed this because as you said, there are so many articles and blog posts out there and it's hard to find all this info in just one spot. Sometimes they contradict each other too, but I think you did an excellent job trying to show what author's voice is and how to find it. It's so funny that you wanted to write horror at first. That's a far cry from what you write now and I'm glad you chose romance because you are so brilliant at it! I am looking forward to part two of this discussion.

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  2. I'm glad you think that about Royce--he is a sexy character, no? I had fun researching this topic and there was so much info out there! That's why this is a 3 part topic. Didn't want to shove it down people's throats all at once.
    I still have that MS too (the horror) and I keep it to remind me of how important it is to figure out what you're good at writing. I would not have gotten anywhere writing that genre.
    And thank you, Luce. I really love writing romance and am always happy when people enjoy my stories :)

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  3. I can totally tell when it's one of my favorite author's books. Just like I can tell it's you writing ha ha. I was laughing when you described feeling sick while writing about human insides...LOL! I can't imagine.
    It's so true about people's blogs and howit reflects who they are. I've noticed that.
    Great blog girl!

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  4. LOL, yeah, it was pretty awful. I don't think it takes much to notice my voice. I think sometimes it scares ppl off though. Hmmm...
    Ah well, thank you for reading!

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  5. You have a wonderful thing going here and I'm glad to have found your blog. It's refreshing to see a fellow aspiring author take the time to shed light on others and not just their own work. I enjoyed reading this post and found it very informative and well thought out. The humor you've injected only makes it a more enjoyable read. I am following now and hope to see more from you soon.

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  6. Welcome Samantha! I love it when I get new followers :) I'm glad you like the site. I do love exposing good writers, even if they're not yet published. It's my way of paying forward the kindness shown to me by others when I first started out. I look forward to reading more comments from you.

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  7. Great piece!! Everything in it was spot on. Question. Will part 2 or 3 touch on a sudden change in voice/ direction? When I first started taking writing serious I did horror and thrillers. Then things happened (gave up writing to please someone else) and my kids came along. When I finally picked up a pen again I was drawn more to writing for kids, middle grade and teen. Sure the darker side of me tends to seep in there but it was a pretty drastic change.

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  8. First of all, thanks for reading :)
    I've read your writing and yes, I do see that darker side popping up in there, which only makes your stories all the more fun. You're right though, that is a drastic change.
    And to answer your question, yes, the second part will cover changes in your life that can affect your 'voice'

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  9. What will the third part cover? Just curious :)
    Such an awesome piece!!
    It's hard not to wish I could write like other authors. Especially those who I grew up reading or inspired me to write in the first place.

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  10. The third part will cover Author Voice vs Character Voice and how to tell the difference. Whenever I pick up a book to read I always remind myself not to critique and not to put myself down. Otherwise I just don't enjoy reading...anything. And that's not fun.

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  11. Great blog, Ree! Fun and informative as always!

    Author voice vs character voice is a topic I've struggled with for some time and I'm loving that this will be a three part piece.

    As for my "author voice" :/ I'm not too sure on that, to be honest. Really depends on what I'm writing. But I know one thing: I do not have a naturally sarcastic bone in my body! Hm. Maybe my voice is "Pessimestic with too much seriousness"

    I'd have to get back to you on that one...

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  12. Hey Maddie thanks for reading. You know, I was actually trying to see if I could pinpoint your voice earlier while writing this. Yours is one that is incredibly unique and hard to figure out. It seems to adapt to a lot of different tones and I'm wondering if it's a natural abitlity or something you just picked up. Hmm...I'll have to get back to you on that one too :)
    It's not a bad thing though, because it definitely is strong and draws me to your stories. Every story I've read (back when you were on webook LOL) from you has had that effect on me. I'm just sucked into your writing.
    I can't wait to hear your thoughts on part 3 :D

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  13. I meant to comment when I read this (cuz I did read it before) but time ran out on my computer and had to go to work. Sigh. Anyway, I loved it and the second part to this is even better. I'm looking forward to the third!

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  14. I always wondered what ppl meant by author's voice and now i realize I've known all along what it was. It just never got explained. Huh. Go figure. Thanks for the info. I've already read part two so i'm on my way to comment.

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  15. Tremendously helpful!

    I have read quite a few posts about "Finding your writer voice" but this post actually delved deeper, pulling out examples from text and giving us clues to look for in our own writing. I love that you involved us in a failure and accomplishment of yours, so we were able to see firsthand how you went about implementing changes, not only making your writing better, but making the process at large immensely more enjoyable. Writing ain't so grand, when you're typing one word per ten minutes. Lol.

    Writer voice is one of those mysteries (I feel ) exists, but is invisibly elusive. You know it's there; you can feel it, see how it's effecting your prose, but, for me at least, I seem to verge into no man's land if I stop taking care to seek out each individual character. Writing in first person helps, as you see and experience everything from one POV, but that doesn't magically fix everything. As you suggested, by figuring out what comes natural, I think we are better able to grab hold of that writer voice and not let go!

    Thank you for sharing!

    Cara

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  16. I am so glad you liked this post. This was a topic that quite a few readers/fellow writers asked about and one that required more than one post on. I'm happy the examples and excerpts helped drive the points home. Hope you take a look at the second and third parts of this mini series as time permits and I look forward to seeing you around our blog in the future! :)

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