Thursday, September 11, 2008

It's Not What You Say...

Authorial Voice. What is it? What does it mean to you?

It's that guy you hear in commercials all the time, "A hard-headed cop on the edge with an addiction to Snickers Bars. A tap-dancing Nun with a prosthetic arm made of nougat. Together...THEY FIGHT CRIME!"


(You done playing with that website yet?) Okay, not really. But it might as well be, for all the evidence you see of its presence. I mean, you wouldn't know that guy if he walked down the street or bagged your groceries every week, would you? Not unless he spoke and he USED THE VOICE. Authorial voice really ought to be the same way. You're not supposed to see the voiceover dude, or recognize him for himself. He's the Voice, simply the body in which the Voice is held, and he is not important. The Voice is.

It's kinda the same way with Authorial Voice. It's not something specific, obvious, or point-outable. It's just there, the same way air is there. If you notice it enough to be able to pinpoint the elements of it, you're doing it wrong. Which is why it's so damn elusive. Hard to teach, hard to learn, and hard to describe. And much like porn, you only know it when you see it. ;)

The only real advice I can give, after about fifteen years of writing with the intent to publish (and no, I'm not counting the teenage self-insert fan fiction I wrote about hot rock bands, Pern, or Star Trek) is that Voice comes with practice. And it can go just as easily with practice. For a long while, I was writing one thing, and one thing consistently, and really started to "feel" the voice coming out--I was comfortable in my subgenre enough to have gotten a handle on the mechanics and could afford to put the heart into it. But then, that market dried up, and one too many "close but no cigar" messages left me really wanting to branch out and try something new.

In that time, I was saved from having to do some gut-wrenching soul-searching about my identity as a writer by the new appointment of my identity as a mother. And wouldn't ya know it, getting back to the writing with kid-in-tow changed my voice about as much as the attempt to find the next big thing that would stir my passions.

I've since discovered that there are some really random things that can throw off my authorial voice, and it's gotten to the point where I've worked out a system for rediscovering it, or coaxing it back out. But that's a blog for another day. For now, let me close with a request for all you writers out there--do not fail to notice that finding your authorial voice is also a journey in addition to being a quality of your storytelling. Finding your voice is an exercise in some very subtle self-discovery that not only allows you to grow as a writer, but allows you to grow as a person, too.



Savanna Kougar said...

Xandra, I never thought of it like, but as author you do have to possess a certain authoritative voice to tell the story you're striving for. Or, I often think of it as a confident voice.

Skylar Masey said...


Great post! I was so sad to hear the voice over guy died last week! What a shame.

Often I have to use little tricks to get me in the right frame of mind. Especially music, and I love to have some visual reference for scenes and characters that help me "get into character".