This month, we’re talking about an author’s “voice,” that seemingly elusive quality or spark that makes an author’s work unique. Though many of my YAOTL blog brothers and sisters can, and probably will, describe and define voice better, I’ll take a crack at it too.
This snippet I read in Writer’s Digest a while back (apologies, I don’t remember the author) is the best, most succinct definition I’ve seen: “No two Author Voices are the same. It’s how you speak and think and then how you translate that to the page.”
Easy peasy, huh?
Here’s another, more convoluted way to look at voice. In a Steven Spielberg movie, there’s always a moment when the characters stand there, with a soft light brushing their faces and a wind machine ruffling their hair, gazing at Something Important in wonder (or maybe it’s awe), while the John Williams score reaches a crescendo. That’s Spielberg’s signature, his director’s voice in action. A moment like that in Quentin Tarantino’s film “voice” would be quite different and probably involve a lot of cursing and blood.
To show, not tell, about voice, let me humbly offer a line from one of my own works:
“Something at the door grabbed my attention. Correction, not something, someone. My heart stopped. Not literally, of course, since I'd be dead, but seeing him, it sure felt like that.”
I chose that snippet from my WWII-set time travel, BERYL BLUE, TIME COP, because it defines the title character (snarky, tough, but not quite as sure of herself as she thinks she is) and shows my voice (snarky, tough, but not quite as sure of myself as I think I am). It also provides a dandy segue into the meat of this blog post—how I was able to find my author voice through character.
My childhood nickname was “Lungs,” for two reasons, because I had a loud, loud voice, and because I had plenty of air (mostly hot) for that voice to be always, always talking. Things haven’t changed much over the *number redacted* years I’ve been walking this planet, blabbing away.
So, safe to say, I’ve never had trouble finding my voice, except when it came to writing. It took me a while to discover my author’s voice.
When I sat down to write my first book, a paranormal about a reporter, a sexy cop, and an evil soul-sucking immortal, I had an idea, a concept of the characters, and a wow finish. It took me a couple years to write, and when I was finished, I read it over and thought, it’s great! No revision required! Instant bestseller! Send it off to New York and surely I’d get a book deal!
Well, no. Along with the usual newbie novelist mistakes—too much backstory, slow pacing, passive voice, run-on sentences—I made the big mistake of trying to emulate my favorite authors in my tone. The novel read like a paranormal Janet Evanovich meets Elizabeth Peters.
Where was I, the author, in the mix?
I was in a critique group at the time, and the takeaway I got from my sister critters was, “We love your characters, the story, not so much.” While I’d been busy trying to Evanovich-up the narrative, my characters, the hero and heroine in particular, began to speak and act in their own voice, or, rather, what I came to realize was my voice.
Took me a while to nail down what I’d done right, and that was to let my characters establish the “voice” of the story. I’ve honed my technique over the years and now I come up with a plot, a setting, and a wow finish, then turn the characters loose in my brain—mining my life experience, my wants and needs, doubts and fears—to discover who they are and their place in the story. And the results always surprise me.
I bet you’ll be surprised too, when you find your voice. And when you do, let the world know it in a loud, loud voice!