The Writer’s Voice
Last Thursday’s post asking for questions gave me a few weeks’ worth of headaches post ideas—thanks for being so generous! I’ll try to get to as many as I can. Several people asked about “voice” and I was planning to write about it soon anyway, so let’s tackle this one first. I’ll barely be able to scratch the surface today. It’s a big topic and I’m sure we’ll discuss it more than once. But let’s get started.
What do we mean when we say we’re looking for “new voices”? What do editors mean when they say it’s the writer’s voice that captures them—or doesn’t?
Let’s start by identifying a few things voice isn’t. Voice is not style. It’s not technique. It’s not branding. It’s not a decision to write in first or third person.
So what is it? To me, your writer’s voice is the expression of YOU on the page. It’s that simple—and that complicated. Your voice is all about honesty. 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.
Voice is all about your originality and having the courage to express it.
Sounds simple, right? Then why is voice so hard? One of the most common problems with fiction by new authors is the lack of a unique voice on the page. How is this possible? You are unique. You can’t help it, you just are. You aren’t exactly like anyone else. How, then, are you failing to express that on the page?
I think it’s because most of us spend our lives presenting to the world anything and everything except who we really are. We present images of who we want to be. We show the world what we want them to see. We expend lots of energy upholding our facades, and in the process, we can lose touch with our true, unique selves. Many of us are afraid of real, total, gut wrenching honesty.
I also think one of our biggest problems is that we’ve been media consumers since the day we were born. When I read fiction that doesn’t have a “voice” that captures me, it usually feels derivative, i.e. similar to other works of fiction rather than striking me as fresh and coming from life. Instead of truly creating stories and characters of your own, you may be unwittingly regurgitating stories and characters you’ve read and seen in thousands of hours of reading and TV/movie watching in your life. This means you are not being your unique self, but a composite of many other selves who are not you. Admittedly, it’s a big hurdle for all of us to overcome.
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 only place to find it is within you. (Yikes, sounds like I’m going New Age here!)
It’s a process of peeling away the layers of your false self, your trying-to-be-something-you’re-not self, your copycat self, your trying-to-sound-a-certain-way self, your spent-my-life-watching-television self. It’s like going to psychotherapy, delving deep and allowing the real you to emerge, only in this case you want it to find its way on to the page.
How, exactly do you do that? Take heart—there are lots of ways to excavate, uncover, discover and develop your writer’s voice (and it doesn’t necessarily involve years of therapy). Don’t you think that will be a terrific topic for another post? Me too.
Today I want YOU to tell me: What are some ways to find your unique writer’s voice?
And one more thing: Read through the contest entries on the previous post, thinking specifically about voice. See if you can identify it where you see it. DON’T comment on any specific entries, but let me know if you learn anything from this exercise.