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VOICE—You’ve Got Personality!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

THERE WILL BE A BOOK GIVEAWAY at the end of this series . . . but I’m still in the process of reviewing the book I think I might want to give away. So, stay tuned for that title and join in the conversation for your chance to win. Every comment you leave earns you an additional entry in the “hat.”

Who is your favorite author? In case you’ve been hiding under a rock—or this is the first time you’ve ever been to my blog—mine is Jane Austen . . . followed closely by Linda Windsor, Susan May Warren, and Dee Henderson. What is it about these authors that keeps me returning to their books again and again? Well, they are wonderful storytellers—great characters, plots, settings, etc. But there are a lot of other writers who are great storytellers. What specifically draws me to these particular authors?


Great . . . but what does that mean?

The first time I ever started to get an inkling of what voice is was just after completing my first full manuscript. After much cajoling on his part, I let a friend from church read it. This made me somewhat nervous—it was my first full story. I had never let anyone outside of my mom, grandmother, and best friend in college read anything I wrote after my terrible experience in the two Creative Writing classes I took at LSU. And I knew David to be a voracious reader who loved, amongst other popular and prolific authors, Steven King. But I e-mailed the manuscript to him and waited to hear his polite response (masking the fact he didn’t like it). After all, it’s a romance.

Sooner than I thought possible, he got back to me—he’d read the whole thing (about 120,000 words or 450 pages double-spaced) in almost one sitting. He got misty-eyed when the main male protag reconciled with his parents at the end. If he enjoyed it so much, surely romance readers would love it. Then he said, “And the whole time I was reading it, I felt like I was reading a book by a favorite author whose stuff I’d been reading for a long time. It was as if I was sitting there with you and we were just talking and you were telling a story about people we both know well. I could hear your voice in my head as I read it.”

Ding! A bell went off in my head. That’s what everyone means by Author’s Voice. But I didn’t know how I achieved it—except for the fact that I just sat down and wrote. I lost myself in the story. I knew hardly anything about craft. In addition to loving the characters and the story, I was writing it as an experiment—could I write a complete novel from beginning to end in limited 3rd person POV? I was more concerned about telling the story from start to finish than in trying to figure out what genre it was or to which publishing house I would submit it (which I don’t know if I ever will). I let myself be guided by the characters—let them tell their story through me.

Not very helpful in trying to define voice, is it?

The more I think about what David said, the more I focus on the last part of it: it was like we were just sitting there talking . . . he could hear my voice in his head as he read it. Now, he and I were very close friends at the time and could spend hours talking about anything. In analyzing his comments, what he was really saying is that I write the same way I talk—that the words I put down on the page were familiar to him because they were true to the vocabulary, the structure, the cadence of how I speak in real life; but more so than that, the familiarity of my personality—my voice—came through because I wasn’t trying to write like anyone else or in a style I thought would be acceptable to some particular publishing house or another.

Although I’ve always read my writing aloud to check for errors, I also started really listening to myself as I do so—if I trip over the words on the page or substitute other words or rearrange them as I speak it, I know I must rewrite it until it rolls naturally off my tongue—as if it is the way I would have said it if I were sitting with a friend, telling him the story off the top of my head (in a grammatically correct, craft-conscious way).

Though it is not a fully accurate definition, voice is the author’s personality shining through the words on the page.

Think about your own blog. When you write an entry, are you thinking about your Author’s Voice? Probably not—because you’re just sharing what’s on your heart and mind. Your blog is a great representation of what your Author’s Voice is. Do you write in long, flowing sentences, expounding upon your thoughts with lots of description and $5 words? Or, short and choppy with lots of action? What about figures of speech such as metaphors, similes or analogies?

My prose writing style is very much like my blog writing style. I like long sentences—and parenthetical elements set off with em-dashes—that seem to flow on and on, sometimes for nearly a whole paragraph, just to get the entire thought in. But not always. I like to punctuate them with a snappy two or three word fragment just to keep things interesting. I love figures of speech and have cultivated the use of them until they are a part of my mental writing toolbox—easily accessible. In fact, when I re-read my writing, I will find places where I have accidentally authored an alliteration without even realizing I had done so, simply because that’s me. Because that’s how I write.

Don’t worry, we will continue to delve deeper into this subject. I’m in the process of contacting a myriad of authors from across the genre-board to get their thoughts and experiences with discovering their Author’s Voice.

But here’s an assignment. Write a blog entry as one of your characters, writing it just the way you write everything else on your blog. If you want to actually publish it to your site, be sure to leave a comment with the link. Or just post an excerpt of it in your comment here if you don’t want to put it up on your site.

I’ll post mine tomorrow.

  1. Erica Vetsch permalink
    Tuesday, February 13, 2007 1:44 pm

    I’ve had a friend say I blog just like I talk.

    What about historicals, where you’re adapting your own ‘voice’ to the era you are writing? Is it still there in sentence structure, cadence, literary form, even though masked by the era?


  2. Kaye Dacus permalink
    Tuesday, February 13, 2007 4:04 pm

    This is a vital part of the discussion, Erica, and I do plan to get into it at length–as it is something I have had to learn to do in the course of writing a contemporary AND a historical AT THE SAME TIME!


  3. Mary permalink
    Tuesday, February 13, 2007 5:34 pm

    My favorite authors are Francine Rivers, Dee Henderson, and Kathleen Norris. :O)

    What a great way to explain “voice”…and I love your idea for an assignment…hmmm. I think, since I’m still on my first book, that my heroine’s voice is eerily my own. It’s been easier that way, writing from my own pov. Now my hero’s masculine pov, that would be the one to blog from, if I want to be challenging myself!

    As for you getting around to submitting…I can’t wait! I’m sure you’ll be snapped right up. I’ve loved reading your Ransom chapters…


  4. Kaye Dacus permalink
    Tuesday, February 13, 2007 5:41 pm

    Yes, Mary! Challenge yourself. Get inside your hero’s head and see what he has to say and how he wants to say it! (And let us see it!)

    In what I consider to be my first writing–a 200,000 word “manuscript” that is a collection of vignettes with a loose plot of following the lives of several friends from college–I actually wrote it from my own 1st Person POV to begin with…it kind of started as a joke between my best friend and me. When discussing all of our friends one evening (two of whom were boys we liked), she said “I wonder where we’ll all be in five years.” So naturally, I went home and started writing it. But the more I wrote, the less and less the “people” were like their real life counterparts and the more and more they started becoming “characters.” I wrote and rewrote and wrote and rewrote pieces of it for ten years and it was a wonderful exercise in learning how to create characters and how to get inside their heads and make them unique. So, yes, use your voice to begin with–and then see if your heroine doesn’t start taking over and asserting her own voice after a while!


  5. Carol Collett permalink
    Wednesday, February 14, 2007 5:01 am

    Two of my favorite authors are Stephen King and Donita Paul. (Weird combo-I know.)King’s voice is quite recognizable by now.
    I haven’t developed my voice. I’m still trying to find it. The way I write documentation in a patient’s chart at work is much different than fiction writing. I almost feel schizophrenic! Since I’ve been a nurse for over 12 years, that type of ‘writing’ takes over. And trust me, it’s not an entertaining style. 🙂


  6. Georgiana D permalink
    Wednesday, February 14, 2007 10:23 am

    LOL, I love — too! I use them all the time, probably incorrectly and way too much, but still.

    Great assignment. I never thought about using casual writing as a way to feel out the real voice. Good food for thought…


  7. Georgiana D permalink
    Wednesday, February 14, 2007 10:23 am

    Hey, my comment got the boot.

    Anyway, I was saying that…Oh way, there it is. Sorry!


  8. Alice permalink
    Tuesday, March 13, 2007 8:27 pm

    Hey, wow this is a great site! i was doing an english assignment and i was trying to figure out what voice meant and how it came thru in the story. (my favourite writer is dee henderson and i am doing my assignment on her novles, “the omalley series” and i just didn’t know what the voice really meant, and then i came across this site and i thought that the line “voice is the author’s personality shining through the words on the page.” really sums it up!!

    thanks heaps!!


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