Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Eliza On Writing - Identifying Your Author Voice

Who are you?

The question of voice seems to plague every writer at one time or other. If you have a strong one, readers either love you or hate you. If you don't have a strong enough one, every submission you send out comes back with some weak comment about it.

I've been thinking through this for some time. I critique manuscripts, and I judge quite a few contests, too. One thing that always strikes me when I'm absorbed in a good story or reading a well-written manuscript is how I can almost hear the author telling me the story. Now I want to clarify the "telling" part, because yes, I know the story should be "shown" not told, yet there's more to showing and telling a story than the narrative, action, or dialogue on the page.

I think you'll get what I mean when you pick up a Nora Roberts book and then go to a convention and hear her speak. She's in your head when you're reading one of her books. There's absolutely NO doubt who wrote the book. Her personality comes through on the pages.  I've read Harlan Coben and then watched a a few interviews with him. He writes the same way he speaks, and I feel like we've been best buds for years. It's strangely intimate to experience that with a virtual stranger, but you get that opportunity with an author, the chance to feel like you know him/her from the way they tell you a story. That is what we as readers want from our favorite authors--that personal touch, the comfort of knowing they won't disappoint us, the almost knowing what they'll say before they say it--the pace, the rhythm, the tone of the work.

You can depend on them, you can trust them, you can run away with them.

So, how do you develop a voice? To begin, get comfortable in your skin. Everyone says write WHAT you know; I say write WHO you are. Are you snarky, sweet, humorous, flighty, funny, serious, stuffy? Use your strong character traits and fit yourself into your story. Janet Evanovich is also a great example of an author with a strong voice. her characters are varied, but the tone of the books are the same. They are Janet. Your characters will have dialogue and narrative qualities of their own, but the way you tell a story will be purely YOU!

If you need help to find yourself and your voice, write a lot. Write journals, and poems and blogs. I don't necessarily recommend that you show this writing to anyone, but write it just the same. WARNING - Don't edit this writing. Stream of conscious writing is where you'll discover your voice. Yours will be unique to you. If I bump into you somewhere, I should recognize you the minute you open your mouth and say "Hi!" "Hello." "How are yah?"

I'm sure I've missed mentioning something. How about you giving me a hand here and comment? I'm sure you have some thoughts on this subject. Every writer out there has heard about the mysterious "voice". Now lets expose it for what it is..."You!"

19 comments:

  1. A very eye-opening blog. Since I'm an avid reader and have met some of the authors I've read I can agree with you 100%. We can identify their speech patterns and enunciations much easier.

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  2. I guess this is what my oldest friends have meant when they told me they love my books because "they sound just like you talk!" I guess if they have been my BFFs for years, they must like the way I talk, eh? And since I'm kind of a noisy broad, I guess that's why my heroines are always very independent.

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  3. I like that. Write 'who' you know. I can think of many authors I know personally who prove your point.

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  4. This is so true. My BFF read Binding Vows and said... OMG, you and Tara are so alike. No question who wrote the story! Voice is very unique to each and every writer. Great blog, Eliza.

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  5. Very interesting blog. I wasn't sure how to "find your voice" that everyone talks about.

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  6. What a great topic! I think it's also good once you are in the comfort zone of your voice to write what you don't know, stepping out into something new can be a great opportunity to find more about yourself.

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  7. Thanks for your comments so far. You've made some more valid points. Here's something you should keep in mind: If I didn't write what I DON'T know. . . I wouldn't be writing anything at all. LOL ~~Eliza

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  8. One addiction many romance writers have is to remove the reader a step by using phrases like 'she wondered if he...' or 'he felt his...' ---all gimmicks beginning writers snag when reading some deep POV books. Not only does it take reader a step back, it indicates an amateur writing. Stepping into the action with active verbs is the simple but hard way to write from a powerful voice.

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  9. I wish my voice sounded less like me and more like Stephen King's. Ah well.

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  10. Judi, makes a good point. We work so hard following the rules of writing, our voice gets lost. Don't get me wrong, you have to know the rules to break them effectively. The rules exist for a reason, and the author who can write within those guidelines and still make the work interesting has well-learned the craft of writing.

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  11. Eliza, I hadn't really thought about the strength of a writer's voice until you mentioned Nora Roberts. You are so right. In her talks, she sounds the way she writes.

    I might disagree with he felt and she wondered being weak and the writing of beginners. I learned long ago that people perceive in different ways, and a sizable percentage of people are "feelers" who perceive in that manner. Others perceive visually and would discuss in a visual manner.

    So many writers, so many visions...

    Monti
    NotesAlongTheWay

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  12. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Monti. After reading so much Nora, when I see her at conferences, I'm always surprised she doesn't sit down and have a drinK with me, and then I remember she doesn't know me. LOL

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  13. Ms. Bybee, I thought I was you BFF. LOL

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  14. Thanks for another great post. I agree with using active verbs. It can take good writing to a new, higher level.

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  15. This is a great topic! I spent a lot of my early writing days worrying about how to find that voice, and it has evolved over the years.

    After learning about the evils of passive writing, a multi-pubbed NY author I respected a lot told me that passive used correctly can be an effective tool. Movies aren't devised of nothing but close-ups, after all--there are establishing shots and mid shots as well. All aid in pacing and suspense. Once I realized this, my writing changed a lot. I wasn't trying so hard to squeeze the hero right up against the reader's nose, but letting them observe from a close distance for a while and then BAM!, yanking them in close during action or bedroom scenes when it counts the most. (wink wink)

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  16. Write WHO you are says it all. What a great insight. Thanks.

    Michal Scott
    writing Christian erotica and erotic romance...where love is always a threesome
    www.michalscott.webs.com

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  17. You are so right. The first rule of writing is to write what you know and how you speak...particularly for novels, that is. Journalism and non-fiction are another matter because they are based on information from another person's voice or chronological research.

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  18. Remember YOUR VOICE has nothing to do with active or passive voice. A sentence can be active or passive depending on whether the object is doing the action or if it's having the action done to it. Such as : Her hair was tangled by the wind. (passive) -OR- The wind tangled her hair. (active)
    I think your VOICE is that special essence that's you in your writing, the tone, the mood, the pace -- everything that sets the work apart and makes it identifiable as yours.

    Thank you everyone for helping us clarify VOICE.

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