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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dang! She's got a mouth on her!

When it comes to a pair of shoes, or a nagging woman, this may be a bad thing. But when it comes to writing fiction, a powerful voice is essential. Monday, I talked about character and how it's one of the things that Mary Kole feels separates the unpublished writer from the published author. The second thing is voice. As you all know, voice is near impossible to define. It's not something you can teach. It's not something you can learn. But it is something you can develop over time. And by time, I mean years and years of practice that ultimately result in you finding your own voice. In the Webinar, Mary Kole didn't even attempt to give pointers on the matter. Instead, she named books that she felt were perfect examples of strong voice. Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Feed by M. T. Anderson were among this list. She also stated what her most frequent voice notes consist of: dry and clunky writing; reads like a business memo; and too adult (of course this only applies to children's literature). She also commented that the voice must be authentic and natural. No author can force it. Readers, even kids, will notice if you're a poser. So, what did I learn? Well, I didn't get any solid answers, but I did learn that my voice is unique to me, and only practice will get it strong enough for publication. I'm sure you all are a bit disappointed that I didn't have some greater words of wisdom, but we are talking voice here. I'm not sure that anyone can give a concrete explanation of what makes for a good voice other than that it captures the reader and won't let go. What do you think? What makes for a powerful voice?

27 comments:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

That was one thing I noticed with the kissing blogfest on Monday. There are so many different ways of describing the kiss and so many different voices. No two were a like. :)

K. M. Walton said...

Boy did I struggle with nailing my character's voices...for such a long time. After I read THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie my writer-eyes were opened. That book nailed teenage boy voice. So did LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green. And PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King is a glorious example of snarky teenage girl.

I learned one word from hearing Libba Bray talk: real. Her overarching point was to continuously ask yourself as you're writing: Is it real?

I went back into EVERYTHING'S NOT LOST and authenticated both of my MC's voices.

Stephanie McGee said...

NO stinking idea. But I do know that there is a difference between author voice and character voice and if you have strong both, you're golden. Don't ask me for more because I don't know.

Patti said...

The biggest thing is finding your own and not try copying someone else's.

Jen said...

Boy, that's a good question. I think solid work, truthful words, facts to back up anything. And what Patti said... don't copy!

Happy Wednesday Dear! xo

Oh, and pop by for a GIVEAWAY today!!

Tere Kirkland said...

Voice has been really hard for me to develop over the years. Until I started listening to my characters, I didn't really know what it meant to have a readable voice.

So my character voice is probably stronger than my author voice at this point. I also realized that first person done well is NOT any easier than third. Go figure. ;)

Thanks for these posts, they're very helpful.

Laura Pauling said...

that is such a tough question. I know when I see it though and it's the difference between me reading the book and not reading the book. I think voice is skill. Learning how to use the rules to your benefit but knowing how to make the sentences and structure your own. Hard. Very very hard.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I think it needs to be natural and fun. :-)

jbchicoine said...

I sure wish there were a formula for voice--but maybe it's anti-formula that makes for voice. To be honest, I haven't a clue. I just write...

Tana Adams said...

I wear comfortable shoes and I tend to try and never nag, but when it comes to my writing voice I liken my MC's voice to a beacon on a very dark night. I'm not afraid of the power of words, as long as their on paper. ;)

Elizabeth McKenzie said...

Well, there's the hero's voice, he sounds like Dudley Doright, The villain sounds like Vincent Price, also the scary voice. Really, though, it's all in the dialogue, duh, the language, the speed in which they talk, grammer, if they are deaf, they might talk lously and say, "What" a lot, whiners are easy. I think the whole thing is to differentiate the characters and their characteristics. But then what do I know.

Bethany Mattingly said...

Crazy shoes! I love a good voice. I can forgive a lot in a book as long as the voice is still compelling. Congrats on hitting 500 followers!

Ray said...

I'm with Patti...staying true to 'voice' is difficult. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone with an accent, then found yourself mimicking them? Or is that just me?

Stephanie Faris said...

My agent just recapped a seminar from the SCBWI conference in San Diego where this was discussed. I liked the way she said the editor from Boyd Mill Press put it:

"In sum: voice is the quality that allows the reader to forget about the author. It has place – a taste of where you came from, what’s shaped YOU, the author, in life, and sensory details. The best voices reveal a piece of the writer – what YOU notice because of who you are -- which, I’ll add, makes sense; as humans we’re going to connect the most to real human voices, because it allows a character to seem real, which allows us to forget that they were written."

Beth said...

Thank you for passing along Mary's comments. I'd love to read the good examples she gave paying special attention to voice. Her most common comments were useful too -- and painful to this writer who is currently struggling with voice!

Jayne said...

Susan, where do you find those shoes?! And not disappointed at all. I think you are absolutely correct, voice comes w/practice, and reading a lot of authors who excel at voice. Whenever I feel a need a little voice consultation, I read Capote, or Carver, or Lamott. Plenty more great writers, with distinct voices, to read too.
A voice is cultivated over time, that's the only magic to it. ;)
Oh, and I love Ray's comment by the way. So true! Hard to keep our own vocal voices steady, never mind in writing!

Terri Tiffany said...

That is the grossest pair of shoes ever:))
I like that one day voice will come to us as we grow in our writing and become more confident in who we are:)

Julia King said...

Voice is a tough one. I'm for sure still honing it and probably always will be. I think if you write how you sound, it is best. But. My WIP is a little on the darker side, so I have to tweak it due to the fact that I typically am a happy person. Conflicting, huh? Well, today's shoe is scary. I'm freaked out Susan. Where do you even find these pics?

Colene Murphy said...

When I first started writing I was so frustrated that no one could tell me how to get my voice, what exactly I was supposed to be looking for to find my voice, etc. But I totally get it, now. I can't tell anyone else either. And if I think too hard, over analysis my writing trying to force my own voice I can really tell it's lost. Great points!

Jill Kemerer said...

I know it when I see it! Voice hypnotizes me, makes me continue reading, lulls me into a happy place where I know I'll enjoy a book.

Paul Greci said...

This makes sense to me. I think voice is something you can develop by writing a lot and reading a lot.

Name: Holly Bowne said...

I think you're right, Susan. Your voice is...well, your voice. It's got to be authentic, real.

I think it's interesting that it needs to be developed over time, though. I guess I just figured that voice is the one thing you sort of start out with automatically. No free passes in creative writing, eh?

David said...

I think you have to care about the narrator as well as the character, even if they aren't one and the same.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Voice is very unique to each author. I've heard many lectures about it, and you're right. It can't be something that is faked. Thanks for the reminder.

lotusgirl said...

Voice can make or break a story. Authenticity is key.

jenheadjen said...

I mostly appreciate voice when I don't notice it - when I can just read through a piece and it flows without getting me stopped up. My frustration with voice, especially, is when people try too hard to be unique, chummy, or homey, using words like, "yup", "folks", "ya know". I see it more with blogs, but if a character overused these words it would be flat out annoying. Great post!

#167 Dad said...

A very old, very cool shoe shine man gave me some applicable advice when he said, "BOY, YOU GOT TO BE WHO YOU IS."