Heather Webb joins us today to give her insight into one of the most eluive and most- discussed topics amongst writers: voice.
It’s All in the Voice (Part 1)
Ever heard an agent or editor say the voice in your novel didn’t grab them? What does that mean, and more importantly, how do you fix it? Pinpointing what makes a novel’s voice alluring can be a difficult aspect to nail down. Many novice writers have trouble understanding the separation of the character’s voice from their own. What is the difference? We’ll dissect both elements in a two part series. In this article, we’ll begin with you, the writer.
AUTHOR’S VOICE is the style that distinguishes one writer from the next. Sandra Brown’s voice is quite different from Sherry Thomas’s, is widely different from C.W. Gortner’s. As readers, we identify with certain authors because of those differences—hence the reason publishing is so subjective. What are these elements? Let’s talk about…
WHAT MAKES YOUR VOICE UNIQUE
Does the author write rapid fire one-liners that make readers laugh? Are their novels tightly plotted with sharp detailing, or lyrical and flowing with flowery descriptions? These are part of voice. To break it down simply, that elements that make our novels stand out from each other are:
• the tone a writer uses
• types of phrasing
• the way the author evokes emotion from their readers
• how they emphasize plot points
• the types of characters they develop
• how they portray their view of the world through the actions of their characters
Another skill associated with author voice is…
MAKING THE ORDINARY SPARKLE
Authors with well-developed voices have a way of making the most trite object or situation appear fascinating and twinkly even. It’s not just a glass sitting on a table with condensation. It’s the boundary line between an arguing couple, sweating from the heat of their ire. It’s the pizzazz, the certain je ne sais quoi propelled by inner spirit and emotion that turns the mundane into something worth reading about.
Finally, let’s look at…
FINDING YOUR OWN VOICE
An author’s voice evolves over time as they become more in touch with their inner emotions, as they take in new experiences with a writer’s lens, and also as they learn…
Confidence: Many new writers make the mistake of mimicking an author’s voice they admire. While this may be helpful in the early phases of learning—to hone crafting skills—it can also be detrimental. It’s a delicate dance. Your voice can disappear inside someone else’s. What is needed, above all is self-confidence. It’s important to say those words aloud to someone: I am a writer. The more often you say it, the more the reality of that statement sinks into your brain. Eventually, you don’t feel like a phony anymore. You feel like bonafide writer, a real artist with your own story to tell. Sure you like those other styles, but you have your OWN. Embrace it.
Read Mindfully: Reading and writing are closely linked. This is something every experienced author will tell you. Read loads of books, both in your genre and outside of it to widen your lens. Analyze the differences in author voice. What sort of techniques do they use that you like? Don’t like? Don’t put reading on the backburner while you’re writing. We never stop learning, and to grow as an author, this is a must.
Let it Flow: Try free writing—about anything. Transition to free writing with your story in mind. Peeling away years of defenses, of being the appropriate and professional at school, work, or online is not the TRUE YOU. What are your fears? Your biggest hurts? Your fantasies? These are the experiences that shape our emotional selves. And ultimately, your history shapes your voice. Sound scary? It is a bit, which is why many writers compare sharing their books to being naked in public. You’re funneling your inner desires, your demons into words, that everyone on the planet can read, applaud, or tear apart. It can be daunting, but unless the writer lets it all hang out, the voice is flat. It evaporates from the page.
Know your Audience: Who will GET your story? Who will sympathize with your protagonist? Understanding your audience doesn’t need to define your voice, but it should certainly have a hand in shaping how you unveil your story elements.
Express Yourself: Madonna said it best. Don’t go for second best, baby. Put yourself to the test. How is your own life story unique? What makes YOU unique? Despite the fact that every plotline has been told a hundred times, each one has a fresh viewpoint, a different set of circumstances. Emphasize these differences—this is where your voice will emerge.
Don’t Over-think it: Don’t try to sound like you, just relax and be natural. Think about one of the first academic papers you ever wrote. You wanted to seem smart so you dumped a bunch of fifty-cent words in the text. But it came off stiff, unnatural and at times probably didn’t even make sense. Don’t force your voice. It will rise to the surface if you listen to your heart.
Stay tuned for Part Two! I’ll be returning to RU June 30th to talk about honing your characters’ voices.
So, what questions do you have about voice . . . c’mon, you know you have them!
Bio:Heather Webb writes historical fiction, but reads about anything. As a freelance editor, she spends oodles of time helping writers find their voice and hone their skills–something she adores. She may often be found Twittering helpful links, or on her blog sharing writing advice and author interviews for readers. She is thrilled to be a contributor to this excellent community at RomanceUniversity.org!
When not writing, Heather ogles cookbooks and chases her beloved gremlins. You may even catch her gobbling the odd bonbon. She lives in a small town in New England with her family, close enough to city hop, but far enough away to hear the frogs chirp at night. She can be found at her blog, Between the Sheets (http://www.HeatherWebb.net), or Twitter @msheatherwebb (http://twitter.com/msheatherwebb).
Heather’s debut novel, BECOMING JOSEPHINE, will be published by Plume/Penguin in 2014.
- It’s All in the Voice (Part 2) by Heather Webb
- Voice vs. Style
- Character Motivation Part One: Using Your Inner Critic to Shape Your Protagonist By Heather Webb
- Avoiding Beige Writing by Laura O’Connell
- Weekly Lecture Schedule August 19-23