Thursday, April 12, 2012

Agent Tweets #9: Finding a Voice

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.

Basically, there are two kinds of Voice employed in writing:

     * Author's Voice: a specific writing style that conveys the author's attitude or personality
        Examples: Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, Jane Austen's cheeky no-frills delivery, anything by Kurt Vonnegut or Oscar Wilde

     * 1st person and/or Character Voice: the speech/thought patterns of a specific person in a book
        Examples: Huck Finn, Bella Swan*, Silverlock, Billy Pilgrim, or [insert favorite character here]

* Not a fan of Twilight, but in terms of voice - Meyers nailed it. Gonna give her credit for that.

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.

Why this is hard: You can have a manuscript rejected just because the voice was wrong? Even though it's an awesome original idea? Yyyyyyep. Apparently so.

How this helps: The above tweets indicate that a good story still grabs the hard-sell reader, even if the Voice is wrong. A strong rewrite should put the manuscript in question back into the running. In other words, though the manuscript was rejected because of Voice, it is by no means the end. Voice problems are correctable.

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.

What about you? How do you handle problems with Voice?
Let me know in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. When it comes to dialogue, I agree that voice depends a great deal on audience. And on genre. I want my dialogue to sound realistic, of course. But at the same time, I'm writing a novel, not a screenplay, and a novel is its own art form with its own rules for dialogue. Very few characters in novels--even in novels famous for terse and realistic prose, like Hemingway's--talk like real people would actually talk.

    Also, I'm writing a fantasy novel. The dialogue is going to be "stylized" a little, because that's what readers expect from fantasy. That doesn't mean there are hard and fast rules that say there can't be informal-sounding dialogue in a high-fantasy novel--and really quite a few high-fantasy novels are breaking away from the flowery dialogue mold. But at the same time, I've seen so many reviews of those novels that complain about how the totally modern-sounding dialogue detracts from the feel of the book.

    This has turned into a really rambling comment. I'm not even sure what I'm trying to say anymore, lol.