Jan 6, 2011

More Thoughts about Voice

Voice tells the reader something about the author. We make assumptions about the author and her view of the world based on the way she deals with the subject matter she’s tackling.

Nora Ephron wrote and directed movies like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, Michael, and You’ve Got Mail. If she doesn’t have a strong personal belief in fate, she’s an awfully good liar.

Dean Koontz must have a strong religious philosophy because it’s present in all of his books—even if they are shelved in the horror section at the book store. C.S. Lewis’ Christian view of the world is clearly evident in his books.

Anne Tyler’s books are always peopled by quirky characters from the “real” world most of us inhabit—blue-collar workers, people struggling to make ends meet. You rarely find Anne Tyler writing about glitz and glamour, but that is the world of Danielle Steel.

Voice is what lets each of us start out with the same premise and come up with completely different stories. We are different. Our speech patterns and word choices are different when we speak aloud, and that’s what we want to reflect in our writing as well. Those who know us well should be able to hear us talking when they read our books—and not because the characters sound like us.

You’d think that voice would be the easiest writing technique to “learn” because it’s not actually something new or foreign. Your voice is already inside you and has always been. Learning voice is more about remembering than learning. But it’s also one of the hardest skills to teach because it requires the author to trust himself. 

Let’s face it. By the time you’ve hung around this industry for a while, you’ve heard so many rules about what’s right and what’s wrong, what you must do and what you must never do, it’s very difficult to trust yourself when you sit down to write. But the rules and fear are probably the very things robbing your work of its natural spark.

If you’re one of the many writers out there who have lost their voice amid all the rules and regulations, all the workshops and advice, don’t worry. To find your voice again, you’ll first have to know the other skills that go into a book so completely that you don’t really even have to think about them. It’s when you can stop thinking about the rules that you can finally relax enough to let your own voice shine through.

So it’s probably a good idea to learn the “rules” and to study story format and scene structure and characterization and all the rest so that you know instinctively what you’ll gain and what you’ll lose with each choice you make.

Finding your voice isn’t a function of learning yet another rule that makes your shoulders tense and your head ache. It’s a matter of relaxing enough to let your natural talents shine again.

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