Aaahh . . . the elusive search for your voice as a an author. How do you find it? Can you create it? Can someone else tell you what it is? Mark Henry is here to give his irreverent spin to the whole discussion.
The Mouth on this One: On Finding Voice
Each time my mother reads one of my books, I hear a variation on this phrase, “Why can’t you write something nice…a sweet romance?” That’s a good question and if I could stop rolling my eyes at her over my coffee cup, I could answer…also there’s pouting—the less you know about that the better. The answer is obviously that I can produce a romance. In fact, I have, my romantic comedy with demonic transplant organs and amateur surgery PARTS & WRECK is available this week. My issue is around the word “sweet.” My personality has a tendency to negate the sweetness and light, like some kind of goth sponge sucking it out of the air until everything is greasy and smeared with kohl…like those girls on America’s Next Top Model.
That last sentence speaks volumes about my authorial voice. It’s at once honest—possibly overly so—visual and tempered with a snarky humor. Let’s break that down further so you get an idea of where that stuff comes from, because it’s my assertion that a writer’s “voice” (those unique nuances that flavor the structure of our stories, the way we construct sentences and our overall tone) is learned through experience. The nuts and bolts, the grammar, the spelling and such, can be taught but voice has to be lived.
As a psychotherapist and crisis counselor for many years, I witnessed all kinds of horrors on an hourly basis. Most of my peers dropped out of the field quickly, throwing away expensive graduate degrees just to get out of the chaos of the work. I stuck around for twelve years. To do that took developing a thick skin and a dark—pitch black—sense of humor. That stuff. That gunky residue in my head flavors my voice.
I’m an only child, in the quintessential sense. Parentified, precocious, too smart of a mouth too soon. I do a lot of thinking, assessing people to figure out how to fit in. I think of this as my chameleon self. All these things make it into my books, into the narrative. Even if it lies under the surface of a scene. It’s there.
The trick is being aware of it.
My brain does things that yours doesn’t and vice versa. I’m highly flighty in my thoughts, one thing reminding me of another then another until it’s all a big jumble (I incorporate that through mid-sentence asides). A novice writer’s initial instinct is to tamp this kind of stuff down—give it a real grind under the boot heel (←like this one)—because the last thing you want to do is confuse your reader…also you shouldn’t touch them inappropriately at public readings, but you should know that rule without me saying so.
I say use it. Those weird traits that make us unique individuals are the building blocks of our voice. Add in our experiences? That’s where good writing happens. When you hear the standard advice “write what you know”. It doesn’t mean write about being a fireman or a housewife or an accountant. You could, but you better have something in your voice that makes it interesting. What you know is yourself, your unique brain chemistry, the way you see the world. Whether it’s through dark and sarcastic lenses, like mine, or pink and wonderful.
That’s your voice. And you find it through personal assessment and insight.
Do you know your voice? When did you find it?
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Mark Henry traded a career as a counselor to scar minds with his fiction. In stories clogged with sentient zombies, impotent sex demons, transsexual werewolves and ghostly goth girls, he irreverently processes traumatic issues brought on by premature exposure to horror movies, an unwholesome fetish for polyester and/or witnessing adult cocktail parties in the swingin’ 70s. A developmental history further muddied by surviving earthquakes, typhoons, and two volcanic eruptions. He somehow continues to live and breathe in the oft maligned, yet not nearly as soggy as you’d think, Pacific Northwest, with his wife and four furry monsters that think they’re children and have a complete disregard for carpet.
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