Friday, March 8, 2013

What Is Your Writing Voice and How Do You Make It New and Fresh? By: Roz Denny Fox



In short, your writing voice is you. It’s an intangible quality that makes a reader want to read more of your work. You can’t learn it. You can’t copy from anyone else. But a big problem is--if you ask 5 writers to describe “voice”, you’ll get 15 answers.
Voice may be easier to define by pointing out what it’s not. Some people describe voice as tone, character mood, or style, but it’s none of those things.
Voice is not tone  The tone of something you write depends more on content. It’s more about where your work will be published. For instance, if you choose the topic “How much makeup is appropriate for a teen to wear?” the tone will be vastly different than if you write about “Teenagers popping their parents’ anxiety meds.” The tone may also vary, say if you write the article for a parent magazine, versus publishing in a medical journal.
Voice is not Characterization  Say you read a scene in a book and think to yourself: I wouldn’t have let the main character do that if I’d written this book. Even if you rewrite the scene making your heroine sweet, not bold, smart, not subdued, or sassy instead of polite—how the character acts doesn’t depict your voice.
Voice is not Style  Writing style most often appears in the similarities a writer chooses to structure sentences, or common rendering of a single item from different points of view. Is the moon always cold and bright, or big and yellow? That’s style.
Then what is Voice? It’s you, the writer’s unique way of expressing emotions, situations or life events. It shows and reflects your spirit.
Strunk and White in The Elements of Style says voice is the expression of self.
Christie Craig and Faye Hughes in Your Writer’s Voice say your voice makes you stand out from other writers. Your voice could be described as poetic, gritty, dark, quirky, humorous, or sensual. But something about the way you create images speaks to individual likes or dislikes of your readers, who will say they like or hate your voice.
Rebecca Vinyard’s article: Have You Found Your Voice? believes you can’t create voice, rather it’s something that just “is”. Voice should flow naturally from your thoughts. And she says writers must take care not to edit out your voice as you attempt to emulate a writer whose work you admire. Trying to imitate another writer can stifle your rhythm, your attitude, your personal outlook that sets your work apart.
Mary Reed McCall says successful voice is like tuning a piano. Keep honing your words and phrases until they sing for you, and until they sound right to your inner ear.
So while describing voice is elusive and hard to pin down, the more you put yourself into the pages you write, the more of your emotional mountains and valleys will shine through, and the more the writing is in your voice.
In Lisa Annis’ article Finding Your Voice, she thinks once you determine your story’s course, “along the way it picks up particles of you. Like a river picking up bits of particles as it flows, so your story carries your voice out to the ocean of readers. That, she says, is voice. Voice is you.”

19 comments:

  1. If anyone had ever tried to pin me down to it, I'd have said voice--for me, anyway--was characterization. I like the way Lisa Annis describes it. This is a really interesting post.

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  2. Liz, I believe voice certainly shows through in the characters we write, but until I started to research on voice---on which there's very little--I hadn't heard a definitive answer. And I'm still not sure it's defined enough to give editors something new and fresh. LOL
    Thanks for checking in.

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  3. This is a very interesting post, Roz. I often notice when I pick up a new book that has a drastically different voice than the one I read before, it takes me a few pages to get the rhythm of the new voice. And you're right - the voice either works or it tends to irritate and sometimes I find it isn't present at all - it's as if the author wrote the story like a robot and isn't involved at all.

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  4. Sabrina, I think author voice is why readers form "favorite author" relationships. I know in some of my favorites it's almost a cadence to the writing that I can identify with. Those are the author's work I like to read if I'm tired, or sick, because it's like a familiar balm and the reading is easy.

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  5. Voice is so hard for me to define, but I guess voice is what makes certain authors an auto-buy for me. Even before their next book is out, I may pre-order it, or I'll mark the release date on my calendar. Whatever the individual story, I look forward to immersing myself in the pleasure of reading that author's work. Thanks for writing an insightful blog post on such a difficult element to define, Roz. And by the way--I do love your books. :)

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  6. Okay, this is a mutual admiration society. Roxanne's books, no matter her sub genre, are books on my buy list. As are Pam Tracey's, and now the other Heartwarming writers on this blog. I'll have to read faster.

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  7. Has anyone else noticed that sometimes when you begin writing a book, you can't always find your own voice? Or maybe, it's just me. You're continually starting over or going back to change your approach. And then you hit that magical 'flow' where you suddenly understand this character, know what you're doing, and you know what to say and how to say it? Anyway - you're such a good teacher, Roz! I'm always learning from you.

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    1. Muriel, I find that my first page/paragraph/chapter gets written and rewritten several times until I find my voice. So maybe it's a writer thing?

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  8. Muriel, I believe what you say is true. I wonder if writers like Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips have that foundering at the beginning of a story. They're 3 writers whose voices are distinct and you can feel in all of the books they write.

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  9. I love it when I meet an author whose books I've enjoyed, and discover that hearing her talk out loud is just like hearing her talk on the page!

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  10. Thanks Roz. You always give me something to think about.
    Recently I attended a writing group where we discussed all the "proper" ways we should write. I went home intending to find all the errors in my manuscript and "clean" all those bad things out. You know - the to be verb in all its forms for one. After finding a few of those problems, I attempted to correct them.
    I lost my voice. My work no longer sounded like me. So I didn't bother to save those corrections.
    Marion

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    1. Marion, I've found that too. If I follow the "rules" too closely, I lose me in the process. I think it's a matter of finding a balance of the rules and your voice.

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  11. Laurie, I hadn't thought about that aspect. Interesting thought.

    Marion, I think a lot of writers stifle their fresh voice doing the very things you mention.

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  12. Thank you Roz for such an interesting blog post. It's always nice to find that one book that flows. It's like a song that you can sit back and just relax. With a book, you have that familiar voice.

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  13. Roz, great post. And love some of these comments. I struggled with voice for many years. I'd hear "I love your voice" in critiques then have the pages bleeding red with comments. If I fixed everything, that voice they loved was lost. It took me a while to find that balance without losing my voice in the editing process. And I still struggle at times with it, especially in the edits LOL.

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  14. Thanks for taking a stab at helping us understand voice. Some work definitely has the author's voice resonating, other not so much. But how to create it? Your blog has given me some hints to chew over... Thanks Roz!

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  15. Great post Roz!! I agree with Marion's comment that sometimes we have to put 'the rules' aside. I think a lot of the time, they are created so that our submitted manuscripts don't run wild with sloppy writing, but there are many times when we have to make a judgement call. I experienced some confusion over this working on my first Brookhollow series book and my agent was wonderful in helping me figure out which rules I could sometimes bend:)

    Thanks!
    Jennifer

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  16. Better late to the party than never! Sorry for the late comment! Voice is so important and lots of times I read out loud to hear the cadence.

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  17. Hi all, I came on today to see who had posted a new blog and see mine from Friday is still the one up. I have visitors so don't know if I'll get back today. Our Tucson Festival of Books was a huge success in spite of inclement weather. Saturday it rained and winded and sun came out in cold splotches, but it didn't dampen the spirits of the festival goers. Sunday was pretty and started out warm but a cold wind came up in the afternoon. Our RWA chapter gave away over 900 backlist books and promo items from anyone who sent stuff. Harlequin Heartwarming was generous and several people who came by our booth said they subscribe. Roz

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