Lately my writing friends – online and here in my hometown – have had a lot of discussions about finding your writing “voice.” It’s something that we are all struggling with, on some level. All writers do, at some point. I would even say that it is a constant battle to nail the right “Voice,” even if you’ve been writing all your life and have a bijillion best sellers.
Voice is the kicker: it is what draws a reader in, and keeps them sucked into your world as they flip page after page of mind-blowing plot development. Well executed, it is a multilayered whirlpool that sucks your reader in and keeps them in – because that’s when your tale, and the people in it, become believable. Badly done, it can torpedo your whole manuscript.
Lately I’ve scoured both the web and hard copy literature for help on this. Not surprisingly, this is something I’ve seen several agents have tweeted about lately. Here are some of the Voice issues that have caused a few of them to vent about it via Twitter:
In a contemp YA novel, those things contribute to the overall voice. Minutiae matters. Word choice matters. I just had to put it down.// If a character is obviously shouting and obviously annoyed, you don’t have to tag their dialogue with “she shouted in annoyance.”//And teenagers (adults, too, for that matter) use contractions in their dialogue more often than not. Otherwise they sound… wrong.// You can have a character voice that’s meant to be more proper. But when ALL the char’s are talking like that, it’s an issue w/ the author.
[regarding a rejection] This is really sad b/c I loved the premise of the novel. I even liked the writing style (if that makes sense). But the voice was all wrong.
How Do I Correct This?:
* Write with a specific audience in mind. It may be one person, or one general subgrouping of people (middle school girls, for instance); but if you know who you are writing for, then your Voice will naturally fine-tune itself to that audience.
* Careful word choice: The first tweet addresses something that every writer figures out eventually: that there is no such thing as an accidental word choice. Every word is deliberately included, or deliberately eliminated. Fluff suffocates – or, even worse – obscures your meaning.
* No cookie cutters: Again, as the above tweets indicate – don’t make everyone talk the same. Even if all your characters are from Depression-Era South Carolina, they’re all going to be from different corners of life. Your mechanic won’t speak like the banker, and neither of them speak like they’re a freshman at Clemson.