Monday, February 20, 2012

An Author's Voice: Innate or Developed?

One of the most challenging hurdles for a beginning writer is finding his or her “voice.” What does “voice” mean, why is it so important and how is it different from point-of-view? A well-developed “voice” is a technique used by writers to help a reader “see” the unfolding events in a story through the eyes of one or more characters. Since an author creates those characters, he or she knows their family dynamic, background, environment, accomplishments, hopes, dreams, loves, failures, vulnerabilities and fears. The better the author knows a character, the more real they will become. An effective voice is a crucial element to keep the reader turning the pages, and it’s manifested with active (as opposed to passive) phrasing, dialogue and narrative as it draws them deeper into the fictional world.

Is an author’s voice like a fingerprint, unique to that one person? Some suggest it’s innate and writers are “born” with it. Some believe voice is learned or developed after much practice, trial and error. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but it could be a combination of both. Just as some recording artists are easily identifiable (think Adele, Willie Nelson, Barbara Streisand), other vocalists’ voices are more generic. Authors should never be content to simply “blend in” with the crowd; they want to rise above the rest and shine! But how?

Showing is the best way to illustrate my point, so below are two examples from my March 2012 release, Twin Hearts (third in The Lewis Legacy Series, but it can stand on its own):

Example #1: Weaving his way through the room of a hundred or so women in red hats of all sizes and shapes—pretty much a reflection of their owners—Josh was a wonder to behold. A number of the ladies looked at the guys as if they were dessert, but they smiled and laughed as they went about their task, ignoring the middle-aged hormones in overdrive. It was as close to swooning as anything she’d ever seen. Based on all the fanning going on, there were enough hot flashes in the room to bake a cake.

Example #2: She didn’t want to feel such a strong attraction for Josh, but her heart and pulse weren’t listening. Don’t look at the eyes. If she repeated it to herself enough times, would it keep her from succumbing to his charms? Those eyes had been her undoing before and would be again if she didn’t watch herself. So much for the self-pep talk. A whole lot of good it did. Why he felt the need to dress in one of his fancy power suits was beyond her, but then again, here she sat in a dress costing the equivalent of a monthly car payment for Ladybug. Hypocrisy was highly overrated sometimes.

Both of the above examples are in the point-of-view of my heroine. Do you see where her “voice” comes into play? Even without knowing anything about this character, you get a good sense of who she is, her sense of humor, her powers of observation, and understand she has a history with Josh. Look at the last two sentences of each paragraph. Those are my zingers, but they’re not always at the end of the paragraph. However, writers should always try to end chapters with a word or a sentence that will hook the reader into turning the page in order to find out what happens next. One of the best compliments I ever received is when a reader said, “I’ve learned to stop reading your books in the middle of the chapter. Once I read the end of a chapter, I have to keep going.”

As authors, we love reviews describing our books with adjectives like fresh, innovative, effortless and engaging. More often than not, those words are referring to the writer’s voice. It’s that element of a novel differentiating it from the rest of the crowd which makes the writing shine, stand out and worthy of attention. Finding one’s writing voice can sometimes be elusive, and it can become a source of great frustration. Persevere and don’t allow it to deter you from writing your best. Perhaps it’s hidden, but I firmly believe a unique voice is within every author, waiting to be discovered and revealed. I’d like to suggest the following five ways to help discover your voice:

#1: Know your characters from the inside out.
#2: Keep the voice true to the character’s point-of-view.
#3: Be an observer of people and events, but also the ironies, humor, tragedies and triumphs of life. It makes you a better writer overall, but it also helps infuse your characters with personality so they almost leap off the page—and into the hearts and minds of readers.
#4: Write what you know and write passionately from your soul.
#5: Approach every character and story as if it were your first or your last. Make them count.

Remember this: even the most innovative plot can be dead-in-the-water without that well-developed voice. Conversely, even the dullest, plodding plot can be enthralling if told with a masterful voice.

Thank you for the opportunity to visit with you today, and I wish all of you God’s best as you read and write. Blessings, my friends. Matthew 5:16

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting article. Good suggestions for developing your writing voice. Thank you.