Sunday, May 24, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about voice lately. Now, before I go in detail, let me just say that it's - thankfully - raining here today. Why thankfully? Well, my office closed at Noon on Friday. It was a holiday weekend and we close at Noon on Friday's of a holiday weekend. Wo0-hoo. So, I get home and Frank is digging up the front yards. Being the nice, generous, somewhat snarky, person that I am, I offered to help. I spent the afternoon with my hands in the dirt. Yesterday was a repeat experience as we landscape the new sidewalk we had put in. The point is - no time for writing. Seriously, up at 6 AM yesterday, grocery store, back home, out in the yard, plant run, back in the yard - oh, crap, I've got to get cleaned up or I'm going to be late, and then not back to the house until after 9. So, writing has not existed for me this weekend.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program. Voice. Does voice (yes, I think the word needs italics) exist in every book?

To some extent . . . yes. To a greater extent . . . no! WTH? Let me explain. There is VOICE that shines brilliantly forth. Go here to read An Offering of Vines by Lady Glamis. Her VOICE shines through brilliantly. Sometimes, however, the voice is far more subtle and almost not noticeable. Tolkien is a prime example of this smaller voice. I'm currently reading The Fellowship of the Ring. There is not, at least to me, a distinct voice but rather a simple telling of a complex tale. This simple telling of a tale versus a voice started the old brain cells synapsing this morning, and inspired this post.

The rapidly (at least I hope it was rapidly) synapsing brain cells created this question: Is voice more important than the characters we create?

Where in the heck am I going with this? Well, I think sometimes the voice of the author shines through in the characters they create, the interactions of the characters, the snarky nature of the characters, rather than in the narrative of the story. No, I haven't lost my mind or put Bailey's in my coffee. Sometimes, the VOICE is in everything. I think this is easy to do when writing in first person, as Lady Glamis did here. In third person, for me at least, it's hard to maintain such a voice for the duration of a novel. I think sometimes, the voice we want has to shine through in our characters rather in the long, narrative passages that tell the story we want to tell.

We focus so much on finding our voice that I think we get lost in the complexity of what is voice? I don't worry about voice in my rough draft. I just go with the flow and write. Somewhere along the way the voice calls out to me. Somewhere along the way, I write a sentence like this . . . The fairy godmother (okay, it was a drag queen dressed as Glinda the Good Witch) waved her magic wand and solved all the problems of the Universe. Yes, voice exists in this sentence. I wasn't aiming for a particular voice, it just sort of happened. More often than not, I think my voice shines through in my characters.

Is this wrong? Am I violating some rule of writing that nobody told me about? Or, are we, as writers, misinterpreting the ideal of voice and agonizing, fretting, diving into the pool of angst, for no reason? Should we let our writing flow instinctively? Should we stop trying so hard to find our voice and just let our voice find us?

Now, I'm currently working on a project (well, I have the beginnings of an idea, a cast of characters, and a murder) where the tone is very laid-back and the voice is very irreverent, quirky, and a bit snarky. Go figure. I know I have an uphill battle ahead of me writing this in third person and trying to maintain the quirkiness, irreverence, and snark throughout the entire project. This will be one of those manuscripts where the voice is evident in every word.

So, what are your struggles with voice? Do you think every book you read has a distinct voice? Do you notice it right away? Or, is the voice more subtle most of the time? Does Mary Higgin's Clark write with a distinct voice? Janet Evanovich? Well, yes she does, but again, this is one of those instances where I think the voice is more in the characters. Tolkien? Guy Gavriel Kay? Tolstoy? Dickens? All of us aspiring writers in the blogsphere? Should we focus more on the voice of our characters?



Litgirl01 said...

Great post Scott - I believe our voice is just as important as the individual voices of our characters. Without a doubt, our characters should have individual voices! If not, the reader can't really get to know them. I wonder what your magarita drinking gladiator's voice it like? hmmm

Have fun digging up the yard! LOL

Scott said...

LitGirl01 - I think all writing has a 'voice', just not a loud VOICE. Sometimes, as with LOTR, the voice is so subtle it is not really noticeable. Other times, the 'voice' is loud and dramatic.

I really think the characters voice - snarky, witchy, obsessed, cool and indifferent - needs to shine forth, more so than the overall 'voice' of the project. Just my thoughts . . .

As for the gladiator, I think his voice is deep and gruff.

And, the rain is still falling, so I've been cooking instead of digging in the yard. : )

Lady Glamis said...

Scott, thank you for your kind words about my piece. I do agree with you. My voice is louder in some pieces than others. However, my WIP right now is just plain lacking in the voice that I KNOW can be there. I deliberately tried to hide it as I was writing. I knew what I was doing, and didn't see the error of what I was doing. I thought that putting my voice in to a novel of that genre was a bad choice.

I was wrong.

I think voice is an impossible thing to define. Just thinking about trying to define it makes my head swim. In the end, I don't think it's about voice as much as it is about having the courage to write what's truly in our ability to write.

See, Monarch is not a spy action thriller, no matter what it appears to be. And it's going to take a lot of courage on my part to let it be something else. I don't know if that makes any sense, but this could be eliciting a post on my part...

Thanks for some great honest thoughts. You have some excellent points!

Robert A Meacham said...

I found you via Lady Glamis and must say I enjoyed my visit here.Your subject was well thoughtout.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Great food for thought here. (Finally getting around to some blog hoppin', so glad I came by.) Adding you to my Rockin' Blogs list too.

As to the importance of voice, sometimes it's everything. It's probably the bigger part of what hooks an agent, as well as readers. Your voice is very strong and distinct, so I'd use it in every ms produced...especially if you do a series with the same snarky MC. :) Isn't it the voice (i.e. the major part of the character) which has the power to haunt long after the reading's over?

I so appreciate the real voices of those close to me...because (for better or worse) they migrate into my characters. And that's probably why I love contemp. women's fic.

See, here you answer your own question, I think: "the tone is very laid-back and the voice is very irreverent, quirky, and a bit snarky. Go figure."

Sorry for the yammer. Too much java today. Even Word Ver. is telling me to stop the caffeine intake: "stowbunn." LOL

Scott said...

Lady Glaims - you're welcome. I agree that voice is so hard to define, and yet that's what agents are looking for from a writer. I rarely try to get a particular voice with my writing, rather I let the voice find me. Lastly, your voice - that of the writer - is in whatever you write. You might not see/hear that voice, but it is there. Trust me, it's there, if your short story is any hint of things to come. : )

Robert - I'm glad you enjoyed your visit. Thanks for stopping by.

Angie - glad you found my post interesting. I try! My friends inspire me, and their 'voices' have made it into many of my projecgts. I think it's that whole 'write about what you know' thang! : )


Davin Malasarn said...

I have a bunch of disorganized thoughts on voice. Scott, I think what you are discussing here is the idea of a visible versus an invisible author. I think invisible authors--what you are describing as weak or soft voices here--used to be more admirable in the past. But, modern writing promotes more visible authors, stronger voices, and I'd say that's what agents are looking for, because they think it sells. But, for me, it's a preference. I like the invisible author, usually. I like to forget that I'm reading and just live in the story. So, I usually try to have that soft voice. At the same time, I do think voice is necessary, as Traci says. Soft or loud, you need to find your unique voice because that's the truest reflection of who you are.

Scott said...

Davin - thanks. I vote for the invisible voice as well. Can I write with a distinct, snarky voice? Yes. Is it hard to maintain through 200+ pages? Yes.

My writing, in more ways then one, definitely reflects me. I just often prefer for that reflection to jump off the pages with the characters, rather than the narrative passages . . . even though the voice does speak loudly in some passages.

: )