Last time I spoke of character voices. This time, I'd like to look at your voice.
After a presentation I gave for a local book club, one member said she'd read one of my books. Her comment was, "You write the same way you talk." And, after I sent a chapter to my critique partners, one said, "This sounds very Terry." That, I think, sums up "voice."
Any author starting out tries to write what she thinks a writer should sound like. She might work hard to make her characters sound unique, and true to their backgrounds, but all the other stuff—the narrative parts where the character isn't speaking—sounds stilted. It sounds "writerly."
But what the characters say isn't the same as "Voice." It's all the other words, the way the sentences are put together, how the paragraphs break. Can anyone confuse Suzanne Brockmann with Lee Child? Janet Evanovich with Michael Connelly? Even Nora Roberts has a distinctive voice that is recognizable whether she's writing a romance as Roberts, or one of her "In Death" futuristics as JD Robb.
Your voice will develop over time and (one hopes) will become recognizable. It's important to learn the 'rules' of writing before trying to be distinctive. In the art world, we recognize artists by their style. But they, too, can change. Here's an artist most of you are probably familiar with.
Do you know the artist? What if I showed you this picture instead?
Before Picasso created his own recognizable style, he learned the basics. Before your voice will develop, you have to write. And write. And write some more.
Try looking at your manuscript, or the book you're reading. Find a passage that's filled with narrative. How does the author deal with it? Is it in the same vein as the dialogue, or do you get jolted out of the story because all of a sudden there's an outsider taking over? If it's a funny book, the narrative needs to reflect that sense of humor. If it's serious, the author shouldn't be cracking wise in narrative. If your character speaks in short, choppy sentences, then he's likely to think that way, too. Again, the narrative should continue in that same style.
I'd like to quote a review I received for Nowhere to Hide:
Terry Odell creates characters that the reader can empathize with and cheer on as they cope with overwhelming challenges. She also writes a love scene that makes one apt to agree with Colleen that “sex rocks”. Her writing style is so smooth that she seems to disappear and the characters come alive so the reader is in the moment with what is going on.
What part of that review do you think pleased me the most? Much as I liked the whole thing, it was the last sentence that led to the fist pump.
You want your voice to be recognized, but not intrude on the story. If you want the reader caught up in the story and the characters, you, the author have no business being on the page. Every word on the page should seem to come from the characters, whether it’s dialogue or narrative. You’re the conduit for the story and the characters. You’re there so they shine, not the reverse.
It takes practice—and courage, because you have to put "you" on the page, and not the "writer." But when you finish, you should have your own special work. You won't be a cookie-cutter clone. Rule of thumb—if it sounds "writerly", cut it. When the words flow from the fingertips, that's probably your own voice coming through. Let it sing.
|Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.|