A Master's Voice

One of the most difficult and frustrating facets of the writing game may be voice. It's tough to explain, harder to grok, and impossible to boil down to a simple set of how-to instructions. Yet voice, the unique way in which an author strings words, sentences, and paragraphs to build a story, is the factor that separates the good writer from the great author -- and the single quality that most excites agents, editors, and readers.

I belong to a critique group that includes five talented women. If each of us brought one page of a brand-new product to a meeting, and they were all mixed up, with no names, I'm dead sure that every single group member could match each page with the correct writer, in the same way that readers could correctly identify something written by, say, Janet Evanovich or Michael Connelly or Diana Gabaldon or (insert your favorite author). Voice is as good as a fingerprint in that way.

You can't go to a workshop to develop your voice. You can't find a shortcut how-to article or book that will help all that much. What you can do is write. And write and write and write until your voice finds you (which, according to the famous adage, happens after you've gotten every writer's million words of...um... crap out of your system.) And then hope its appeal is broad enough that you will find success.


Suzan Harden said…
LOL - Once you grok voice, you cannot possibly explain it to a new writer. Alas, that is the paradox.

*sigh* I miss my Heinlein.
I love classic Heinlein, too.

And I think that you have to gain a ton of reading and analytical experience to really get voice. And even then, some people never really do, but they still recognize great voice when they read it. It's what makes you want to rush out and buy another work by an author you've just read instead of simply buying another book in the same subgenre/category.
Kim Lenox said…
Excellent advice. Voice is so hard to pin down. It's a writer's essence!

I've got to go read about grok now ... :)
Voice! A great topic, Colleen!
When I was a newbie, I unintentionally copied author voice, sometimes I had a different voice every chapter. Yipes. When I joined my first critique group (still beloved friends!)I went through a stage of revising every word, sentence, page according to every every suggestion. If I had a voice, I mashed it, soaked it, flattened it, LOST it. I'd labor over the same pages over and over again trying to please my writing buddies. Eventually I bored all of us to pieces, quit the book and started a new one. When frustration and a serious case of "writer's laryngitis," set in, I gave up writing. (Or tried.) I even quit RWA for a long time. (But I came back.) Sometimes it's better to write the complete, beginning-to-end book of your heart while studying the craft of writing by yourself or through classes, aka writing "cough drops!"
Hi, Kim and Nancy Kay!

I think that writing imitative works is a step most writers take in their journey to developing their own voice. It takes confidence to trust in your own way of stringing words together. Sometimes, a critique group, if applied to early in the process, can quash that confidence.

Glad you've come back to writing, Nancy, and to RWA. We enjoy having you!
Jo Anne said…
Alas, Colleen - I wonder if I'll ever 'grok' my own voice. Sometimes I think I'm getting there - and sometimes I think what I write sounds so stilted, it isn't 'me' at all. Then again, I'll write something the way I would normally 'think' it - and it sounds so outrageous, I'm not sure anyone would understand. :-)

Onward through the fog . . .
Teri Thackston said…
I'm with Jo Anne. Some days I feel like I'm getting a voice, other days I wonder where I lost it. Thanks for this blog, Colleen.
Glad you stopped by the blog, Teri and Jo Anne. Having read your work (both of you), I'd say you *definitely* have a voice. It continues to clarify over time, I think, especially as a writing gains confidence.

And we're all grappling in the fog, Jo Anne, so don't bump into anybody. :)

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