Craft, Story and Voice

One of the most common things I hear from writers lately is, “You’ve told us a lot about what makes you say no to a book. Now tell us what makes you say yes.” So yesterday I wrote that I love when I can sense the writing is authentic and true.

Today I want to take it further and identify three basic things that are immediately apparent to agents and editors when we read and evaluate your work, and they make the difference between yes and no.

. . . . .Story.
. . . . . . . . . . Voice.

Of course, the elements are intertwined, but it’s helpful to artificially separate them in order to understand why a book is either working—or not.

Craft refers to the mechanics of fiction: plot, characterization, dialogue, pacing, flow, scene-crafting, dramatic structure, point-of-view, etc. I think craft is pretty easy to teach and it’s easy to learn. It’s technique, the foundation upon which writers use their artistic skill to build their story. Knowing the mechanics of craft enables you to use it to create the effect you want.

Story refers to the page-turning factor: how compelling is your story, how unique or original, does it connect with the reader, is there that certain spark that makes it jump off the page? Is it sufficiently suspenseful or romantic (as appropriate)? Does it open with a scene that intrigues and makes the reader want to know more? Story comes from the imagination of the writer and is much more difficult to teach than craft (if it can be taught at all).

Voice is the expression of you on the page—your originality and the courage to express it. Voice is what you develop when you practice what we talked about yesterday—writing what you know. It’s the unfettered, non-derivative, unique conglomeration of your thoughts, feelings, passions, dreams, beliefs, fears and attitudes, coming through in every word you write.

Without a doubt, whenever I read a new manuscript and fall in love with it, the deciding factor most of the time is the voice.

So how do you find your voice? You can’t learn it. You can’t copy it. Voice isn’t a matter of studying. You have to find it. And the way to do that is by writing, and experimenting, and seeing what kind of response you get from others, and writing some more. And some more.

Putting it All Together

I receive numerous projects that show strong technique, but no originality or heart. In a way, this is good because it shows that writers are paying attention to their craft. They’re taking the time and making the effort to learn to write, which is fantastic. But some of them lack a strong story, and others don’t have a compelling or unique voice. These writers just need to keep working on it.

I think some writers find craft easier, and others find story comes more naturally. A few writers have a strong voice right out of the box; most writers have to work for years to develop one.

When you read published books that don’t seem to “follow the rules” of craft that you’ve worked so hard to learn, instead of getting mad and throwing the book across the room, try to determine if maybe that book got published because of the story, rather than technical perfection. Ask yourself whether the author has a pleasing or compelling voice that makes you want to read, despite technical imperfection.

If your storytelling and/or the voice is powerful enough, readers will forgive an awful lot of flaws in technique… and so will agents and editors. On the other hand, all the perfect “craft” in the world can’t make an unimaginative book shine.

If editors and agents are looking at your samples and immediately criticizing your craft, be aware this means they aren’t able to see a fabulous story in there and they’re probably not compelled by your voice. Either it doesn’t exist to begin with, or it’s camouflaged by your lack of expertise in fiction technique.

So craft, story and voice all work together to create a winning work of fiction. Of the three, story and voice are my primary considerations when searching for new writers.

Q4U: Which is harder for you? Craft, story, or voice?

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. […] Gardner, Rachelle. Craft, Story and Voice. Rachelle […]

  2. […] Craft vs. Story vs. Voice by Rachelle Gardner. It’s worth it to understand what each of those words mean. […]

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  7. Barbara DeMarco-Barrett on March 9, 2010 at 8:36 AM

    >What a great post, Rachelle. Thanks for this.

  8. annoynomous on February 14, 2010 at 10:22 PM

    >I'm not sure I understand the concept of voice of the author or "finding your voice" as an author. Instead, I think what I respond to is the voice of the piece. That is, each piece of writing has a unique voice to it. For instance, Feed and Octavian Nothing have voices that sound nothing alike, even though they are both written by MT Anderson. I think the idea of "finding your voice" as an author is more like finding your brand, something that doesn't happen until published and even then, often more by what you've done before.

  9. John Jack on February 14, 2010 at 4:07 PM

    >I have a natural voice for creative nonfiction that fans and readers stopped me on the street to remark favorably upon. The craft of nonfiction came about readily with practice too. Story was a much harder slog to implement in nonfiction that emerged as I realized one given topic might not support a story structure and another one will.

    Fiction, my natural voice doesn't translate. Craft study and application were enhanced by writing fiction, story too. Fiction voice, I've got one hiding in here somewhere, if my muse will let it emerge.

  10. Postman on February 13, 2010 at 9:06 PM

    >Hardest for me is craft, by far. All that business of plot, characterization, and other literary devices are as a nebulous cloud to me, a long list of abstract nouns that I know I must master in order to write a good story, but struggle with on a daily basis. I'm fine with story and voice. I've got a page-turner. I'm told I have a strong, unique voice, even when I'm not writing fiction. It's just the craft that I have trouble with, and I suspect that will dog me when I'm query-writing and submitting.

  11. Jody on February 13, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    >Announcing the launch of an advice column for writers, in which I help them hear from their muse.
    Yup, that's right!

    All the best, Jody

  12. Jody on February 13, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    >Announcing the launch of an advice column for writers, in which I help them hear from their muse.
    Yup, that's right!

    All the best, Jody

  13. Jewel/Pink Ink on February 13, 2010 at 8:58 AM

    >I struggle with each one at different portions of my manuscript. Sometimes, I get started with a good Story then get bogged down in specifics. There are other times when I start with Voice, but then meander myself into a plot corner. I just try to force myself to keep on, and hope that it all evens out in the end :-).

    I love that thought about authenticity. It is the sweetest, most exhilarating feeling about writing, and also the scariest. I live for moments like those.

  14. Lisa_Gibson on February 13, 2010 at 1:06 AM

    >Great post. I would have to say craft as well. Right now, I'm having a bear of time with POV with my WIP.

  15. Nishant on February 12, 2010 at 11:16 PM

    >Story concept is a cinch, it's delivering snappy, effective, efficient writing on that story that's the hard part.

    Work From Home

  16. mkcbunny on February 12, 2010 at 10:31 PM

    >Jason's comment struck me, as well. As a former entertainment journalist, I thought the craft would be the easy part and the story the hard part. In knew I could write, but I wasn't sure I'd be able to write fiction and tell a compelling story.

    As I wrote and edited my first novel, I eventually realized that my inner-editor's voice wasn't the same as my off-the-cuff writer's voice. This never happened when writing articles and film reviews. So it's taken a while for me to figure out which voice to put in the driver's seat.

  17. Ien on February 12, 2010 at 1:41 PM

    >Yes, absolutely. Great post. But it also helps to be a little bit literal-minded sometimes and to forget that the writer's "voice" is a metaphor for…um, what exactly? Train like an actor, I say. Learn to project. Figure out how to express the particular line you've got to deliver. Then forget about your voice. Thinking about your voice while you're talking just gets in the way of what you came to say.

  18. Jon Paul on February 12, 2010 at 4:35 AM

    >This is a really helpful post. I linked to it in my weekly roundup!

    Thanks for sharing.

  19. Kim Hernandez on February 11, 2010 at 8:21 PM

    >This is a wonderful post. You explained the three elements that you and other agents look for so well. I used this post to talk to my fourteen year old about the essays he has been writing in class too. Very helpful!

  20. Carradee on February 11, 2010 at 8:15 AM

    >I'd say the hardest one for me in story. That's what I struggle and fight for the most.

    After that, I have difficulty balancing craft and voice. I want to be true to the voice I'm writing while keeping the craft comprehensible, and that's often harder than it sounds, for my characters.

  21. Naomi Hart on February 10, 2010 at 11:39 PM

    >I suspect mine is a combination of the three, and a different one rears its ugly head at different (yet equally frustrating) times. While I can resist, this frustration often causes me to get up from my chair, put on my sneakers and go for a run!

  22. Naomi Hart on February 10, 2010 at 11:39 PM

    >I suspect mine is a combination of the three, and a different one rears its ugly head at different (yet equally frustrating) times. While I can resist, this frustration often causes me to get up from my chair, put on my sneakers and go for a run!

  23. Kathryn Magendie on February 10, 2010 at 11:36 AM

    >"voice" or "style" and my characters are my strongest point. I start with a character and it grows from there. I wish I could write better from plot or story, but my brain just doesn't work that way. You have to work with what you have-your limitations can bring out the strengths, but, I will always just be the kind of writer I am and I've come to embrace that! *smiling*

  24. Henya on February 10, 2010 at 9:02 AM

    >A compelling observation on writing a story.

    For me, story and voice come first. I know what I want to write, and I write. I suppose the voice goes along with the writing. It just comes out. Craft? Well, that's something altogether different. It takes technique, something I am not always privy to knowing despite all the books I read about it.

    But your post makes me think. And that's good.

    Thank you.

  25. emily on February 9, 2010 at 11:48 PM

    >Oh, craft, definitely craft. Story has to be truncated by craft; there is always too much plot to fit, which has to be whittled down to the best parts. In the same vein, my voice has to be modulated by craft — I have a tendency to 'shout', or alternately, to give my ironic humor such a subtle twist that half my readers miss it entirely.

  26. Dana on February 9, 2010 at 11:29 PM

    >I can't believe no one spoke of the powerful work you just posted. Seriously, that post was jumping off the page and the most interesting yet. Very well written.

    Anyway, as a new writer I am working on all three but I think voice comes to me quite easily.

  27. R. D. Allen on February 9, 2010 at 11:01 PM

    >Story is, hands down, the hardest part for me. I've studied Craft intensely and I'm pretty confident about my Voice, but I'm really struggling with getting the Story to match that.

  28. Anonymous on February 9, 2010 at 8:04 PM

    >I really like Leverage and Psych and Castle, but my favorite new guilty pleasure is WHITE COLLAR. Tuesday nights!) Not only is it well-written and fun, "Neal" is very easy on the eyes…the whole cast is attractive and likeable.
    Mysteries are back!

  29. Cherise A on February 9, 2010 at 8:02 PM

    >As a teenage author, I find all three realms difficult to some degree, with different areas taking center stage at different times. A year ago I felt really confident with my 'voice' but didn't know as much about craft. Now, as I am learning more about craft, I find I am struggling with fitting my 'voice' into the correct form, and I begin to wonder how much of my 'voice' is actually the set of mistakes I repeatedly fall into.

    I am encouraged, though, in the fact that I continue to get stronger in the area of Story. At least something is improving with some degree of regularity. 🙂

    Thank you for the beautiful post. At a time when it's easy for me to get lost in grammar technicalities, I found this reminder of the overarching importance of Voice to be both helpful and inspirational.

  30. Maggie Desmond-O'Brien on February 9, 2010 at 7:30 PM

    >Craft, definitely! Though voice is fairly difficult, as well. Stories have always come easily, but shaping them into a compelling plot with likable, understandable characters is hard for me. 🙂 Great post!

  31. Barbara's Spot on the Blog on February 9, 2010 at 7:27 PM

    >No question, I'm a story gal. I did get an excellent book which is really helping me to work on my craft and that's Nancy Lamb's book The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children.

    I'm really relieved to read on your blog that craft can be taught. All I can think is "patience grasshopper".

  32. Dominique on February 9, 2010 at 6:46 PM

    >Well, I'm still working on the craft at the moment, so I think that will seem the hardest part until I can get it right. Then I'll be better able to judge the quality of my story and voice. So, I don't think I'll know until I'm 1/3 done with this tri-part process.

  33. jongibbs on February 9, 2010 at 4:26 PM

    >Which is harder?

    Whichever I'm doing 🙁

  34. Jeanette Hanscome on February 9, 2010 at 3:51 PM


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  35. GalaktioNova on February 9, 2010 at 3:50 PM

    >Oh, thank you so much! This is one of the best articles on the subject I've ever seen. I'll remember every word of it.

    For me, the story is the hardest part. I just can't come up with any of those beautifully natural slices of life other people can spin :-). I sweat my stories and often have to cover up for their weaknesses with some strategic use of voice and craft :-).

  36. Mira on February 9, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    >Really interesting post and comments. Thanks, Rachelle.

    I struggle with craft. But I'm getting better at the editing process – I think – so I feel hopeful that eventually I'll learn craft well enough – although it may never be my forte.

    It's disappointing to me that I'm not a storyteller. I'm just not a fiction writer. I wish I was. I can tell a different type of story, one that's internal to someone, but not an adventure. It's a limitation, and I – reluctantly – accept it.

    But that's very different from someone who has the basic storytelling talent but that talent needs sharpening. That's a different thing altogether.

    My strongest skill is voice. I have a very strong voice. I'm still looking for ways to release it – it's a bit challenging. But interesting. And I feel hopeful about it. 🙂

  37. Mark Young on February 9, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    >Right now, I'd have to put my money on craft in my writing. Getting all the elements of craft to blend together into a cohesive fabric takes a lot of practice and a lot of mistakes to get right. A continuing work-in-progress … sort of like sanctification.

  38. Jacqueline Lichtenberg on February 9, 2010 at 2:09 PM

    >I just referenced this post in my blog post on the TV shows Leverage and Psych and how they're duking it out in the ratings race.

  39. Jessica on February 9, 2010 at 1:54 PM

    >I've been reading all the comments on voice and I'm starting to think that the voice should match the story. Having a strong voice is awesome, but if it doesn't fit the story (genre, etc) then maybe that's why there are rejections? (barring the subjectivity of it all, lol)
    Great post and great comments!

  40. Sue Harrison on February 9, 2010 at 1:43 PM

    >I'm intrigued by what Jason wrote, and I think he's hit on one of the most important secrets of voice. Voice is ME (the author), singing alongside HIM or HER (the POV character/narrator). The hardest part is to get the mix right, but when the duet works it's Mark Twain-Huck Finn magic.

    Sue Harrison

  41. Anonymous on February 9, 2010 at 1:07 PM

    >My point exactly, Jacqueline! Not only is fiction subjective, but it depends on a person's moods: ON different days, I may want funny or thrilling or sweet or romantic. What's compelling to me may not be to someone else, and vice-versa. Tim, I do think it's a challenge to make an ordinary story "compelling." That's what makes us writers.

  42. Sarah on February 9, 2010 at 12:57 PM

    >This is a great post and helps me evaluate my skills in a new way; thanks. As a non-fiction writer, it sounds like the craft & story portions maybe apply more to fiction. However, I think they both still absolutely need to be thought about and worked on. You still need to write well and you still need to make people want to read your words so I am looking at those to pieces in a fresh way. I think that voice has always been my strong suit, but I don't want to rely on it so much that the other two are neglected. Thanks, Rachelle!

  43. MZMackay on February 9, 2010 at 12:35 PM

    >First off, I'd like to thank you for the last two posts. Providing us with what works, is just as helpful as telling us what doesn't. Frankly, the last two posts have been rather uplifting.

    For me, I believe I am still searching for my voice as a writer. I'm still a fledgling so I know I'll find it someday.

  44. Timothy Fish on February 9, 2010 at 12:12 PM

    >At the risk of getting my hand slapped again, I’m going to say that I believe that we can tell any story in a compelling way. As writers, it is our task to find that way. For me, that is the fun part of writing. I love to consider how I can take the basic facts of the story and present them in such a way that they are interesting. And though it may seem subjective, it isn’t; transformation is the key to a story being compelling.

  45. Jason on February 9, 2010 at 12:04 PM

    >Debbie…I was in a similar boat. I had no idea what writers were talking about when they mentioned voice–no one seemed to be able to give me a good definition of it.

    But then I wrote a first-person short story from the point of view of a sarcastic white teen (I'm black by the way), living in the 1960's. For some reason I totally identified with this character, but I think it was writing in first-person that helped me find my voice.

  46. Shelley Sly on February 9, 2010 at 12:02 PM

    >I think story is hardest for me. Don't get me wrong, I have great ideas and an outstanding imagination… but when it comes on paper, the overall story sounded much better in my head.

    Craft was at first challenging, and I still haven't mastered it perfectly, but I think my craft is stronger than my story.

    Voice might be the strongest for me.

  47. Sharon A. Lavy on February 9, 2010 at 12:00 PM

    >That is a hard question to answer. Can we really know? It is all so subjective. SIGH.

  48. Dara on February 9, 2010 at 11:34 AM

    >It's between craft and voice. I can come up with a fairly compelling storyline (well, at least I think so…and members of my critique group have said that) but finding my voice is hard. I always feel like it's forced, no matter how much I write. I think I can see aspects of it developing but it's not there. Yet.

    Craft is difficult for me too. I've never really been great at the mechanics of language. Even though I was an English major, any courses on grammar and the mechanics of it were always a challenge.

    *has horrible flashbacks to sentence diagrams*

    Anyway, it must be that the craft part utilizes the analytical part of my brain–the part that is a muddled mess at best 😛 But I'm constantly trying to work on it and I think I've gotten a little better over time and with practice.

  49. Kathleen MacIver on February 9, 2010 at 11:31 AM

    >I think mine is story.

    Craft…I'm pretty sure I'm good at. What's more, I LOVE working on craft and getting those words just "perfect."

    Voice…I think my voice is at least in a decent developmental stage, although I honestly am not sure.

    But story is my weakness, I think. People want more to be HAPPENING, etc.


  50. Jacqueline Lichtenberg on February 9, 2010 at 11:26 AM

    >I think the big clue is in the idea that a "story" has to "be compelling".

    As if compellingness is a property of story that can be infused into words on purpose! It's not.

    Whether a particular person finds a story "compelling" depends on the person not on the story at all.

    It's a subjective response, not objective.

    Writers who try to make their story "compelling" on purpose (rather than make the plot compelling which is just craft) will likely freeze up, stop writing, or produce something awkward.

    So just write your story. Then find the audience it compels.

  51. patriciazell on February 9, 2010 at 11:25 AM

    >Several years ago at a writer's conference, an editor told me that although my writing was fine, my nonfiction book proposal would not sell. My voice was far too technical and professorial. I have struggled with this problem for years until I began writing my book on my blog. By breaking my content into posts, my voice became much clearer. Last week, one of my readers wrote, "I genuinely like your writing style. Very distinctive and to the point." I've finally found my voice!

  52. Timothy Fish on February 9, 2010 at 11:22 AM

    >Voice ought to be the easiest. We all have a unique voice that is the sum total of our life to this point. The question is, do we have the confidence to use it? Are we going to shout it from the mountain top, or are we going to whisper, for fear that someone will disagree with us? But just because we have a unique voice doesn’t mean people are going to like our voice. I figure that if all we get is phrase and no criticism then we aren’t writing loud enough for people to hear our voice. Or to put it another way, shy writers aren’t welcome.

  53. David Jarrett on February 9, 2010 at 11:08 AM

    >I just wish I could get someone to read what I've written. I can't seem to get craft, story, or voice in front of anyone for her to criticize it.

  54. T. Anne on February 9, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    >I have been told repeatedly that I have a strong voice, but yet the rejections still keep coming. Thankfully I have someone helping with revisions on my MS right now and I hope to steel up the story and work out the kinks on the craft end of things. I'm hoping it'll be ironclad in all three area's very soon.

  55. Nicole on February 9, 2010 at 10:45 AM

    >(Very well explained, R.)

  56. Abby Stevens on February 9, 2010 at 10:44 AM

    >I wrote a blog about this a while back, but I had it indentified as writing versus storytelling for craft and story. I am a natural at the mechanics, but the story is what really gives me pause. I have to think long and hard about my story, and I'm still not one of those writers who easily come up with complicated winding plots – I do, however, feel like my characters have real depth and relatability.

    In my post, I had completely left out voice, although now I see how they are all interconnected. I have trouble understanding what voice actually is, honestly, except to say that it is simply how you come across on the page and whether that is engaging or bland, unique or done, etc., etc.

  57. Rachel on February 9, 2010 at 10:40 AM

    >I struggle to some degree with all three, but I feel like the most elusive is 'story.' Or more specifically: fitting story and voice together in a non-weird way.

  58. Rebecca@Diary of a Virgin Novelist on February 9, 2010 at 10:36 AM

    >Ooooh, CRAFT CHEESE! You are my friend and foe.

  59. Anonymous on February 9, 2010 at 10:26 AM

    >I've had several articles and short stories published so I kinda know my craft. So far I haven't received any negative criticism on my novel per se, but all the agents say is it's hard to sell in a tough economy. Is that a nice way of saying it's not commercial or copelling enough? (It's mystery/suspense–not YA/vampires/sci-fi thriller) How do you know if it's your story or voice or if it's just not "hot" or trendy enough?

  60. Debbie Maxwell Allen on February 9, 2010 at 10:23 AM

    >For me, voice has taken the longest to develop. I wrote my entire first novel, and liked it, but I didn't love it.

    Then I entered a small writing contest, where you had to write in first person (which I never did), and concentrate on connecting the reader emotionally with the character. It was hard. Really hard. But I did it. And amazingly, that story is published in Christian Fiction Online Magazine this month.

    So with my second novel, I decided to rewrite the first chapter in the same voice as the short story. And it turned out so much better.

    The only problem is that this style of writing takes a toll on me emotionally. I used to be able to knock out three to five thousand words a day. But now, I have to rip these words out of myself, and it's exhausting.

    But it's worth it.

  61. Lyla on February 9, 2010 at 9:56 AM

    >I have the most trouble with story, I guess–I have to work really hard to come up with anything vaguely original! Craft I can learn (and have been learning!).

    That said, I also have trouble with voice because in the process of perfecting craft I edit myself out of my stories a lot…

  62. Heather on February 9, 2010 at 9:28 AM

    >Great post, Rachelle! My biggest struggle is definitely craft. I have a lot of ideas that I think are compelling, but I'm still working on making my writing sing. But I've been attending workshops, reading, and (most importantly) writing every day, and I can absolutely see the improvement over early drafts.

  63. steeleweed on February 9, 2010 at 9:22 AM

    >I would say that without craft, the story may not be communicable, but craft is not enough. What makes an artist – in any of the arts – is not the craft, it is the artist's perception of the world.
    What do you see when you look at the world and why is your perception meaningful to me? As an author, what makes what you have to say worth listening to? If your view is totally mundane and trite, all the craft is meaningless.

  64. tracey solomon on February 9, 2010 at 9:14 AM

    >Hmm probably craft.

    I'm learning to write for story and voice- then edit for craft….

    when I focus on craft- I lose the rest.

    I find I make the same mistakes in craft over and over.
    I'm learning. And improving.

  65. Nic on February 9, 2010 at 9:11 AM

    >Actually, i'm going to correct myself and say that Voice is hardest for me.
    Whatever i do, i seem to be confronted by the fact that i don't have a voice or haven't found it. Soemtimes i struggle in day to day live coz i haven't found it.
    I play tennis and have yet to find my "style" of play. Yes, i can learn fitness, the strokes and strategy but until i find my "style", i'll never win.

  66. ninidee on February 9, 2010 at 9:11 AM

    >Story and craft come very easy to me. It's the voice that worries me. A writer's voice is less obvious to themselves than it is to their readers. I often wonder how mine comes across.
    I know who I am as a person. I know each word I write has thought behind it. I know what my intentions are when I construct a sentence but I don't know if the reader sees interprets it the way I hope that they do.

    Any suggestions on how to know if your voice is unique or strong enough?


  67. Nic on February 9, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    >@Jason I am forever seeing Matrix quotes today.

  68. Nic on February 9, 2010 at 8:56 AM

    >I think i struggle with all of them. When i try for craft, i think voice and story suffer, when i try for voice, story and craft go out the window, when i try for story, voice and craft go out the window. Perhaps write the story, then inject voice, then craft it up a bit and hope i don't lose voice or story.

  69. Catherine West on February 9, 2010 at 8:46 AM

    >Interesting responses. We're all different, which I guess is a good thing. Craft has been my biggest obstacle thus far. Like a lot of writers, I started out so gung ho and just wanted to get some books out there – but I had no idea what I was doing, and no idea how to fix it when the rejections came along. Thank goodness for writers groups and authors who care enough to write books on craft. Relearning was not easy, is not easy, but I knew when I had passed the hurdle. As far as story and voice go, I suppose I have to admit I'm old school on that one. You either have it or you don't. American Idol analogy – just cause your momma tells you you can sing, doesn't mean you can, or should.
    Good thing I'm not an agent, right? :0)

  70. Jason on February 9, 2010 at 8:39 AM

    >Wow Alexis, I was just thinking the same thing (as a former news producer)…it's hard to describe voice, but I know it when it's not there. It's the difference between the way Wolf Blitzer and Stephen King would tell the same story.

  71. Mechelle Fogelsong on February 9, 2010 at 8:37 AM

    >It sounds vain, I know, but I think I'm good at all three–until I get to the end of the novel. Then I get hung up on story.

    I hate when a good book has a crappy ending, and I'm so worried about creating the perfect ending, that I lose sight of voice. I think this is why agents ask for full manuscripts every now and then, but they reject me after they've read the whole thing.

  72. Alexis Grant on February 9, 2010 at 8:32 AM

    >Great discussion here!

    Coming from a journalism background, voice was hardest for me. I'd practiced for years writing without a voice! But the more I allowed myself to shine in my story, the more my voice has come through. Now I feel like I've nailed it. So while I think sometimes it's difficult to learn the basics of writing, writing with voice can certainly be learned. Just got to find your own!

  73. Nicole on February 9, 2010 at 8:32 AM

    >I'm going to go with craft and then story because I have been complemented on my voice. I tend to be very hard on myself so I believe I need work in all these areas. I am saving this article to refer to as I just started working on my third manuscript in my life time. I figure: keep writing and learning and eventually you will hit gold 🙂 Thank you for the awesome advice!

  74. Jason on February 9, 2010 at 8:30 AM

    >Voice is the hardest because you don't develop it, you find it. But once you do it comes naturally.

    I suppose it's sort of like the Matrix in that respect; no one can tell you what it is, you have to see for yourself.

  75. j.m. neeb on February 9, 2010 at 8:27 AM

    >Add another one to the "story is not my strong suit" camp. I've received a lot of great compliments on my "voice" and realize that I'm fairly adept with the craft, but I tend to get a little tangled up with regard to the story itself.

    Putting together a plot takes a lot of effort for me. I think it helps, though, that I'm aware of this and don't dellude myself into thinking it will be easier than it is. Knowing it ahead of time helps me prepare a little more on that particular aspect.

    Loved the post, btw.

  76. magolla on February 9, 2010 at 8:21 AM

    >Voice took me the longest. For years–as I was learning craft–I tried to fit a MG voice in a romance. Trust me, it didn't work.

    Craft is ever evolving and a good writer will change their style to fit the times. Instant gratification is on the rise with twitter, FB, IM, texting, etc. and readers aren't content to sift through pages of description, prose, back story, etc.

    I think story and voice go together more than some people realize. When a writer has an authentic voice and a unique twist upon an old story, then the magic happens. I love when that happens.

  77. Rowenna on February 9, 2010 at 8:20 AM

    >I think story, with a side of craft. One of my biggest problems is that I like quiet stories–which can be pulled off, but it takes a high level of craft to get them plotted and paced correctly. I fall in love with small ideas and then it takes time to build a story around them and get them where they need to be. I get an eensy bit jealous of you crazy-imaginitive people who can pull a story out of the air like snapping your fingers! My revisions are mostly based around drawing the story up and smoothing the bumps in craft, especially pace and structure.

  78. A. Grey on February 9, 2010 at 8:16 AM

    >Great post. Since I'm in the process of trying to snag an agent, I love anything that might help me along the way.

    I'd have to say I think the hardest for me is voice. I base this off the fact that I've been getting personalized rejections from agents who are telling me that my writing is tight, commercial, unique and page-turning, but that they, personally, didn't 'connect' as much as they felt they should in order to represent me.

    To me, this translates into (in a very simplified analogy) 'you're awesome being you, I'm just not sure I want to represent that you'. Which makes me feel that something is askew not in 'me' but in how my voice is coming across. Very frustrating sometimes, but I've been told I can make it, I just need to figure out that all important tweak that's going to alter my voice just enough to make it latch onto people.

  79. Krista Phillips on February 9, 2010 at 8:10 AM

    >I guess I'd have to go with craft. Story is the fun part. It's where my imagination can run free. Now… whether the story is GOOD or not, that's for someone else to say. I think my story is good, but geez, would we write story we think is bad??

    Voice is something that's inherently there. We can fine tune it, sometimes we experiment with different types of books before we "find" it, but I wouldn't call it hard.

    But with craft, I'm impatient with it. There are so many dos and don'ts. Mostly, I write very fast and I tend to miss things like write instead of right, or missed words. I do stupid things like have my character go inside the bank on Labor Day in the evening (duh, duh duh!) Too many adverbs (though I'm working on that!) and too little description… I KNOW all the rules… okay most of them… but have to consistently work on putting them into practice.

  80. Timothy Fish on February 9, 2010 at 8:08 AM

    >The craft is the hardest for me. I can never remember if the eye of newt comes first or if it’s the bat’s breath. Or is that the bat wing?

    Actually, I don’t feel like I struggle with any of the three in particular. I struggle with first drafts. You know how when you’re writing along and you know how the story will turn out because you wrote the synopsis, but you reach a point in the story where your protagonist is in trouble, which is pretty much every page and you want to move on to the next thing he does to try to get out of trouble. You turn the page and it’s blank and so are all the pages after it. You can’t type fast enough to fill it. I like the later drafts because when I turn the page, there are words that tell me what’s going to happen next.

  81. Jana Dean on February 9, 2010 at 7:56 AM

    >All three need work and attention. Story and voice seem to come most easily, but craft must improve to the level where it will propel story and voice into happy Reader-land.

  82. Amy Sue Nathan on February 9, 2010 at 7:28 AM

    >"Story" was the last piece of my writing puzzle. It's the part that I work on daily. I think, for me, the other elements came more naturally. I've worked on craft since I was in school (in the stone age) and have continued learning techniques and tricks and tips. Voice is something I dig deep for, but I believe that I find it when I do.

    Story, to me, is the hardest part. The page-turning factor can seem obvious when it's your own work. I'm a reader and writer who is voice-driven — so I can love a book where very little happens if the voice appeals to me. At this point in my writing and editing career though, I'm well aware of all that — and I do try to derive 'how I would like my own book to be' when I read others. Meaning, if I read a book where I love the voice and the plot is weak, I note that and try to either employ the same technique or contradict it in my own work.

    Great post.

  83. Sara Tribble on February 9, 2010 at 7:22 AM

    >I'm going to have to say story for me. Mainly because I work my butt off on my outline so I can see/fix my craft as I write, plus I always try to throw my own voice in it because I think it makes more realistic characters.

    So story is where I need to focus, is it unique and compelling? What can I do to make it that way, that's what I gotta work on.

    Great post here, as usual! =D

  84. Jessica on February 9, 2010 at 7:14 AM

    >I think I have a hard time with story, but maybe voice and craft too? I get rejected over story, which maybe means that my voice and craft aren't strong enough either.

    Thanks for the informative post!

  85. Andrea on February 9, 2010 at 6:53 AM

    >Like Jodi, I don't think I can assess the strength of voice in my own writing. How can you tell if your own writing has voice?

    Though I wouldn't say I'm a beginning writer, I still struggle with craft, in particular, plot.

  86. Lance on February 9, 2010 at 6:33 AM

    >For the new writer, it has to be craft. Where exceptions are allowed, rookies must follow the rule. When they stray in the spirit of emulating published material, they are in danger of being dismissed. If they don't stray from what they've been taught, their green is easily seen, and the bar gets raised even higher.

  87. Jody Hedlund on February 9, 2010 at 6:08 AM

    >Great post, Rachelle! I also think we have a hard time hearing our own voice. If someone asked me to define my voice, I don't know that I could. Hopefully, it comes across strong in my writing, but it's not something I can intentionally describe–just like I can't describe my real voice. It's just there. It's who I am to my core.

  88. Katie Ganshert on February 9, 2010 at 5:42 AM

    >I struggle the most with story…I think. I think I've studied enough craft books to make any normal person's head spin right off their neck. And I've been told I have a strong voice (and it just continues to evolve the more I write). It's the story that gets me. Trying to come up with something that feels unique, original.

  89. Aleksandr Voinov on February 9, 2010 at 4:55 AM

    >In my case, story, I guess. I struggle most with my plots (I'm totally driven by character). One day, I'll learn it.

  90. Aimee LS on February 9, 2010 at 3:00 AM

    >Which is hardest? For me it's craft, though that's the easiest to fix, so I'm grateful.

    Story concept is a cinch, it's delivering snappy, effective, efficient writing on that story that's the hard part.

    Voice is me. Good, bad or otherwise, it's there and it's too late to change it.

    Do you write Rachelle? Which did / do you struggle with the most?

  91. Molly H on February 9, 2010 at 2:17 AM

    >Without a doubt, the hardest part for me is craft. The mechanics of structuring a plot so that it matches the lyrical, heart-pulling ideas that sparked the story in the first place. I know I need that structure in order for the story to be fully realized. It's hard. But it IS satisfying to see that that skill can grow! Trying it. Doing it imperfectly. Trying again. And then seeing progress makes me want to keep going!