Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Voice: Can You Hear Me?



About five years ago, I attended a workshop about "voice." It was maybe 3 or 4 hours long. We did a whole bunch of exercises. What was our favorite color? Music? Setting? Ice-cream? Movie? At the end of the workshop, I realized the author was trying to get us to figure out our own personalities. Her point was that our personality is our voice.

I asked a question. I've read authors who wrote romantic comedy, which was light-hearted and funny, and romantic suspense, which was dark. Same voice? She said yes, no matter what an author writes her voice is always the same.

I totally disagree.

I think an author can "adopt" a voice for a book. A funny, light voice for comedy is perfect. And something denser, darker for suspense makes sense.

I think that we have many voices. Because we have lightness inside of us, as well as darkness. And a truly talented writer can tap into many different things to create a novel.

Can you teach a writer to have a "voice"? That is a very good question. You can teach someone the craft of writing, but voice is more difficult to navigate. I think that a lot of newbie writers are concerned with craft, and don't think about voice. Which is fine. Hopefully, your voice shines through your writing. Hopefully, it's instinctive. But over time, I think it can develop and become more distinct.

The books with the most "pop" are ones where the author's voice really sings. The same exact story, written by two different authors, will be totally different because of voice.

This past week I've read a bunch of books, manuscripts, and even a Facebook post that was so exploding with voice it inspired a new book. Bobbi Ruggiero has a phenomenal WIP she is working on, with a tried and true storyline. Why does it work? Because her voice is fresh, new, charming and filled with energy. Her voice is quite literally, her own voice. I can hear her saying the lines. Her humor shines through, her passion shines through. This is what every writer aspires to with her own "voice."

I read Penny Reid's quirky debut novel NEANDERTHAL SEEKS HUMAN and adored it. Voice is a mix of humor, stylistic components, character, pacing. Everything together. Reid has a unique voice, quirky, fun, and funky. It works like a charm for this lovely story. I'll be writing a full review soon.

Finally, the Facebook post. My friend Stephanie Estes Saccoccio wrote a Facebook status that was 87 words long. It was exploding with voice. In eighty seven words, she wrote a story, with perfect pacing, comedic timing, and the promise for more. I bugged her about using those 87 words as the opening paragraph for a contemporary romance, and finally she said...Um, I think I might try that! She has a natural modern, funny voice that is perfect for con rom. And her storytelling ability is off the charts. I think she could take any story idea and make it sing, because of her strong, comedic voice.

Do any of you have a favorite author with a distinctive voice? Have you read any books recently that fell flat because of a lack of voice? What do you think?

Penny


16 comments:

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

First two that pop in my mind are you and Molly Harper. Great voice.

Julia Barrett said...

Wonderful post, Pens. I have as many voices in my work as I have in my head. Lots and lots! I like to read authors who can use multiple voices as well.

Penelope said...

Thank you, Juju! I agree about Molly Harper. She has a great voice...funny and modern, which I appreciate with paranormal stuff. You don't see that all the time.

Penelope said...

Julia...you are the perfect example of someone who can write with different voices. Sometimes funny, sometimes serious--if you write a lot of different genres, you need different voices that are appropriate.

Amber Skyze said...

Julia is a great example.
I hope Stephanie writes the con rom...though I'm sure her historicals will be great.

Penelope said...

Hi Amber! Stephanie's historical romance is hilarious, because it has a very modern vibe to the dialogue. I laughed out loud reading it. But I have been bugging her to write a contemporary, because her comedy is so spot-on. I think it will be fabulous!

Penny Reid said...

First: Thanks!

Great post, very interesting. I'll need to do some investigative work into the concept of 'voice' and determine methods for continued improvement. The more I interact with other writers the more I realize that I don't know much about (non-grant, non-technical) writing.

Penelope said...

Penny...Your voice is brilliant. You don't need to do ANYTHING about that. I think your book is the perfect example of what we instinctively understand about storytelling...you don't need 1400 hours of creative writing classes. You instinctively know how to craft a story, how to make the characters come alive.

Tasha Brandstatter said...

Great post! I can't read Vicky Bliss books before or during I start writing because the voice in those novels is so strong I immediately adapt it. Oh! PG Wodehouse is another author with a really strong, unique voice.

pamela1740 said...

I always think that I'd be able to tell a Stephanie Laurens scene in a heartbeat, if presented with some kind of romance novel version of a blind taste test. Her voice is kind of dense and flowery, if that makes sense?

Penelope said...

Tasha...that is a GREAT point. I also need to "cleanse my palate" before starting to write. It's easy to adopt another author's voice if you just finished reading something.

Penelope said...

Hi Pamela! I LOVE Stephanie Laurens. Her voice is PERFECT for historical romance...it's lush and dense and formal. In fact, I just finished reading one of her books. I love her!

Jessi said...

I'm reading Kristen Ashley's Raid right now and am reminded how much I love her voice. She uses this construction a lot:

I knew such and such was about to happen. And I knew this because...

It's cute. It's KA, and I like it. Also, Raid is super well edited so far, so my one beef with her writing seems to be improving. YAY!

Penelope said...

Jessi...that's good to hear about KA! I don't like super-long books, so I've been scared to ever read another one by her. Sweet Dreams was about 1,276,952 pages long.

Lindsay said...

I agree! It seems lazy to me to say that you are your one voice. That eliminates the challenge to try new things. It is really hard to shift to a new genre and craft a new voice but it can be done.

Penelope said...

Hi Lindsay! Adopting a new voice is a great challenge for an author. It's always a good idea to mix it up, especially if your "old" genre is getting stale.