Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Voice (Part I): Finding Your Voice
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?