Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Elusive Author Voice

There are a lot of things about the publishing world that make me cringe, and the word 'voice' is one of them.

While not as scary as 'high concept', 'voice' is another one of those catch words that leaves a lot of people scratching their heads. Every author wants a unique and distinct 'voice' that editors will recognize, fall in love with and want to publish, but how do you get 'voice'?

I don't think voice is something that can be actively created. Like a physical voice, it can be honed and trained, but only with years of practice. Voice is something we do all have to varying degrees, but teasing it out to where its recognizable can be tricky.

I've had editors tell me they loved my voice. Usually they say this in rejection letters, which leaves me perplexed. I've had a reader tell me, 'When I read your stories, I hear you talking. I know you wrote this because it sounds like you.' Also - perplexed but I suppose flattered.

I've glimpsed author voice now and then - especially when reading contest entries. I received a blind contest entry once and I knew who had written it. It screamed the author's voice - not in a bad way. This person had a very distinct style I'd read before and immediately I knew who I was reading by the way she put words together. Do I think she planned it that way, that she had cultivated a particular 'sound' to her writing? No. I think she simple wrote in her own unique style and that happened to translate to a very recognizable 'sound' to her narrative.

The bottom line with voice, in my opinion, is - you've got it. You may not know you do, you may not be actively trying to develop it, but you have it and if you write enough your style and 'sound' will take on unique characteristics. Over time, I believe, just as your friends and family can recognize you on the phone, your readers will reconize you in your writing.

5 comments:

Jen said...

I think recognizing voice is all about exposure. I wouldn't recognize my third grade teacher's voice now, but there was a year or two in my life where I'd never have missed it.

That said, there are voices in books that I recognize because I DISLIKE them so much. Too much voice can also be a turn off, imho.

Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Too much voice can also be a turn off, imho.

True. I've read plenty of stuff that made me want to scream because the author always said things the same way, like people who end all their sentences with a question, or repeat what you've just said to them, some authors have bad 'voice' habits that make it impossible to enjoy their work.

Lynda K. Scott said...

I think when you dislike an author's voice, you probably won't pick up another of their books no matter how popular they are. Sometimes an author's voice just doesn't resonate with us, or worse, does so in a bad way.

I remember several years ago, I was reading a SF book to review. All I could get out of it was the author's apparent attempt to impress the reader with his vast vocabulary (and it was vast, believe me). I'm no slouch in the vocab department (even if you can't tell, lol) and every page I was looking up 2-4 words just to make sure I knew what he was talking about.

I rarely give a scathing review but I did that time.

Savanna Kougar said...

All great points. I do have a distinct voice, although I can adjust and use it in different styles.
That said, I know some people don't care for my voice, while others love it. And to some it's vastly frustrating because they know I could have written that great story, if I'd just done it their way.

As an author I want to give the reader the story experience they want. At the same time, I need to remain true to my voice. Because that's who I am. And I respect my own voice, whether or not, it's one that suits everyone.

Ah, the non-ending joys of being an author...

Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Ah, the non-ending joys of being an author...

Amen!