About Voice


I belong to a group of Adventist Authors on Facebook, and someone recently brought up the question: “How do you go about finding your voice as a writer?” As the others discussed it, I will have to admit that I wasn’t quite sure what they were talking about. Were they talking about point of view? Perspective? Writing style?

Fast forward a month or two, and I am at Writers@Work conference in Park City. Voice was one of the buzzwords that was bandied about that week, and eventually I caught on. What’s funny was that when it got time to critique my manuscript for the fiction class, many were enamoured with the “voice” I had chosen for the opening pages. Suddenly the skies parted and the light began to dawn on me. I had written my manuscript as part of the National Novel Writing Month held online each November. The first bit of advice they give you is just write–don’t edit–just write as fast as you can. When you take out all the self editing (at least on the first go-around) it is liberating. With that new state of mind, I took on a tongue in cheek, Raymond Chandleresque style told in first person. And it worked.

Now obviously you can’t use the same voice for every book you write. Unless you are writing a series told first person by the same character. But it shows how the characters you choose have a direct relationship on how you tell the story.

It’s like building a car from scratch. You may be the world’s greatest engineer, auto mechanic, upholsterer, welder, etc. You may create a vehicle that works like a dream. But will people buy it? Only if it is esthetically pleasing. That’s where the designer comes in.

Another way to look at it is this: You’re taking a trip from San Francisco to New York. You can take the most direct route, or you can take the most scenic route. Those who take the most direct route are reading a textbook or encyclopedia. Those who take the scenic route are reading good literature. And those who take the enjoyable route that never gets to New York are reading a literary novel (sorry, just had to interject that).

Voice–and characterization–I have learned, are the essence of what makes reading interesting and significant. Of course, this can go overboard, and that is the danger of many literary novels. You still have to go somewhere with your story. As I tell my students, you have to have conflict to have a story. But conflict is often what demonstrates and builds a character. The story ends when the conflict is resolved one way or another.

All of this may seem pretty basic to many of you, but it was like a lightbulb turning on for me. And it took me from being a good word mechanic to a student who is trying to write excellent literature.

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