Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Construction Zone - 7. Voice

Don't mind the empty cylinder - I'm in revisions which means at least part of my brain is running on empty.

OK...on with Voice.

At this point you've started your book. You know who your characters are, you know your basic plot, and you've begun crafting those annoying opening chapters that need to work SO very hard.

You will probably want to shoot me for saying it all doesn't matter at all without voice.

I should be working on revisions right now - they came yesterday - but I am writing this partially because of them, not in spite of. My revisions are fairly substantial, perhaps a little more than I expected, in some ways harder and in others, not so much. But even though I understand and even expected the comments made, it does not mean they are easy fixes. They make sense, but they are not changes I can make in a day or two.

Then, last night, I went to my local RWA chapter meeting and the topic was on voice.

What a difficult topic! How do you define it? The speaker read pieces that several writers had sent her. And each perspective was as different as, well, that person's voice! LOL. But perhaps the simplest definition I can give you is this...voice is YOUR personality, ON THE PAGE.

This doesn't mean your heroine is a copy of you. But it is a blend of many things. It's the way you see the world, your personality, the language you use, the rhythm of your language all rolled up into one package that is as individual as you are. When you read an author with a strong voice, you will recognize that voice over and over again. Some think that you need to let go of all the rules in order to let your voice shine through. Others think that you need to know craft before your voice can find the proper place in your writing. It's all very confusing.

I'll tell you what I think, and how it worked for me.

I think voice happens when you turn off your internal editor and you immerse yourself in your characters. I think you sometimes need to stop thinking so much about HOW to write the story, what the rules are, and just write it. That being said, I think you need to know the rules, be comfortable with the rules, and the boundaries so that unconsciously you can let your voice free without causing complete anarchy. :-) Your book is your child. Children thrive on structure...because then they are secure enough to take chances, explore freedoms. Interesting, isn't it!

In order for this to happen, you have to write, and write a lot. And you might not understand voice very much until you find it and have that "aha!" moment! Now, just like there are some people who sell their first book, some people find their voice right away. But I think for the majority of writers this takes some time and practice. For me it was book 4. Now pay attention: my first sale was I believe, book 8. I hit a groove with book 4 and it was the first book that got a full request. The other thing that happened with book 4 is that I knew where I needed to be targeting my work - Harlequin Romance. I recognized the boundaries, the rules, and the style of my writing enough to clue in to where it probably belonged. It was also at the point in my life where I think I finally grew up enough to be comfortable with myself, and that confidence spilled over into my writing I think.

That book is cringeworthy now, IMO, but it served a huge purpose. My voice kept developing as my craft evolved and I wrote, wrote, wrote - until I got to a point where I was writing publishable material.

Let's put this in present tense now. I took some big risks with Home Fires. First of all, I picked a topic that's not so easy. Then I gave myself a difficult hero, very different from my first two cowboy heroes. I struggled with this ms from pretty much day one. And when revisions came, they were not unexpected, but they ARE fairly heavy.

I asked my editor a question about the ending which will be changing, and then proposed a new take on it. Her response was thanking me for running with the idea and making it my own. And she also said everything was totally fixable.

Which brings me back to something I said last night - You can fix everything, but you can't fix voice. Making it my own means making changes in my own individual way and it's something I'm learning I'm fairly good at. Thank goodness! The mechanics of the story can be fixed. The most important thing is to fix them in your own voice, with your own stamp of individuality so you don't edit that spark right out of your story.

As you're writing your current project, read it out loud. Does the dialogue sound comfortable to you? Do your words flow off your tongue, or have you used vocabulary you THINK you should, rather than what comes naturally? All that is part of your voice.

My editor's note, combined with last night's meeting made me feel so much more confident about making these changes. Because the changes are just mechanics. Who I am on the page? That's just fine. :-)


  1. When I first became serious about writing and went on to e harlequin, Kate Walker said something about how they already had Betty Neels, CharlotteLamb and Kate Walker, what they wanted was people with their own voices. I thought that is a huge relief as I really can't write as anybody but myself.

    Then I happened to go to a Mafddy Prior concert where for a bit of fun they did a James Brown song in the style ofNoel Coward.V amusing, but it showed why people should stay within their own voice.

    A good voice will hold true. And you have a great voice, Donna.

  2. Another way of looking at voice is this -- I had the comment made to me some time ago that reading what I'd written was like that person listening to me talk -- in fact, the book sounded like me.

    It's so true about voice being indefinable, but I don't think anyone should stress about it -- your voice will come out eventually. It can't be forced. And as Michelle says, a good voice will definitely hold true. :)