Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What in the heck is Voice?

Five-and-a-half years ago, I had my first ever critique by an editor at my first ever writing conference. I went into the meeting with so much hope, and came out devastated.

While the editor was very nice, he basically told me that my writing stunk (my own word), and I needed to keep practicing. The only bit he liked was the part I was considering cutting, and he said it sounded like I just hadn't found my voice yet.

I haven't touched that book since.

Anyway, that was the first I'd heard of "voice." What in the heck is voice? I wondered.

According to About.com "voice is the author's style , the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author's attitude, personality, and character."

At Kim's Corner for Teacher Talk she says: "voice shows the writer's personality. . . . It contains feelings and emotions so that it does not sound like an encyclopedia article."

But see, while good definitions, none of this really helped me "find my voice." I do think that I've learned a bit in the past five years, and so here are some things that I think helped me:
  1. Don't just read good books, study good writing. Ask yourself why you like it, and listen to the voice.
  2. Know what point of view (POV) is and how it should be used in writing. I know that may sound obvious, but I look at my first ever book, and cringe at my all-over-the-place POV. I've been re-writing it with a solid POV, and it the change is astounding. (trust me!)
  3. Write what you enjoy. No . . . more than just enjoy . . . write what you're passionate about. For me, that made the difference. I wrote the book I really wanted to write on a subject I adored.
  4. Work with a critique group. I can't tell you how many times my amazing group steered my writing to keep my voice on track. "This just doesn't sound like something the character would say," they told me. Or "This is a POV shift." Little things that add up. (Thanks guys!)
  5. Write. Write. And write. There's nothing quite like practice. We hear this all the time, but how can we expect to be good at something we rarely do? We can't.
I admit, I'm no expert on voice, but hopefully this is a little helpful. And I'd love to hear your thoughts . . . How did you find your voice?

18 comments:

Renae said...

Voice is a tough one, but you were exactly right when you said you have to write about something you are passionate about. I think if we bow to the trends and write whatever the "in" thing is at the time we lose our voices. At least I do.

Great post!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great advice, Janet. Also, don't try to copy someone's voice you love. It'll come off sounding false.

Christopher said...

i think i've got a decent voice but who knows, i've never worked up the nerve to write anything serious enough to be critiqued

Vicki Rocho said...

Awesome post! I love your list especially #3--that makes all the difference!

Joanne said...

I like your idea to write what we're passionate about. I think that bringing in subjects or locales or situations that we just love helps bring our own personality to the page.

Jennifer Hoffine said...

This is excellent advice on a tough topic.

I think the most important one is to write what you're passionate about. When your heart is in it, the voice will come through naturally.

Laurel said...

That element of passion is so important. I also think of voice as the unique associations and images your brain alone will come up with based on your life experiences and exposure to certain historic events, literature and pop culture.

Lenny Lee! said...

hi miss janet! that voice stuff is pretty hard. you got some good advice on it. im gonna do a post on it real soon too cause im just getting to understand it a lot more and finding out more about my voice.
...smiles and hugs from lenny

Bekah said...

I am thinking about voice for my Nano actually, and finding is always the hardest part.

Lisa_Gibson said...

What a great post! A group of us were discussing voice not long ago. It's like trying to nail jello to the wall, to come up with a definitive explanation. Your post is great though.
Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

Shallee said...

I found my voice by doing number 5-- I wrote. A lot. In fact, it wasn't until the most recent piece I'm working on where things just sort of clicked. My crit group helped a lot with that too, actually. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

Missed Periods said...

We were recently talking about voice in my writer's group. One of the women mentioned that Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club and Choke and lots of others, was the master of voice. Which author do you think has a strong voice?

Shannon said...

Excellent tips! Voice can be really hard to find without imitating or being artificial. I agree that if you write about something you love, it's easier to find. Good post.

Anonymous said...
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Christina Lee said...

Some good stuff on voice! I actually had the voice ( according to betas) and none of the other mechanics when i first began.
So now hopefully it all matches up!
*sigh*

Amie Kaufman said...

Great post, this is such a tough topic. One thing I find tricky is that reading other books with great voice can really help you identify with what you like, but copying is a terrible idea. Got me thinking, thank you!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I love this, Janet! Thanks for such great and useful info - you rock! :-)

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