Finding My Writer’s Voice

27 Jan

      Voice – Writer’s talk a lot about it. What it is, how to find yours, fine-tuning it. It seems to be the most discussed and least understood writing topic. Here’s my first attempt at delving into the discussion.

     I’ve just finished the read-thru of the second book of my current series. I’d sent the first chapter to get a “rough feel” from Gwen Hayes (check her out, she rocks). Her response was that I’d finally embraced my voice as a YA Rom Com writer, that I was stepping into my own. Basically, I’ve separated my feelings about being a Fantasy writer and being a Rom Com writer.

     But, as any good writer would ponder, what did that mean?

     I thought about the process of book one versus book two. If you looked at my schedule and to do list, you’d think they were identical. They were so not identical.

     Book 2 was both harder and easier…and I blame voice. 

     There is one thing I’ve learned, voice needs to be BIG, but not noticeable. So many times during writing, I’d think “I can’t write that” and make a little note to insert something funny, clever, etc. I’d get to that point during the read-thru and still want to talk myself out of saying the same thing. And then it dawned on me: Why? Why not go bigger? Why not say the crazy thing that comes to mind every time?  If there’s even the itty-bittiest chance that I might say it out loud…or even think it to myself… why not let my character say it.

     I’m not that interesting… I know, I know, you think I am (Ok, maybe not, but  let’s all humor me), but part of my voice is taking the *most* interesting little nuggets in the back of my mind, bringing them forward and BLOWING.THEM.UP. Making them that extraordinary thing that makes my characters witty or funny or clever or tortured or humbling. I don’t…can’t…do that in my own day to day life, but that doesn’t mean those things aren’t locked inside me.

     And so, as I think about writers and how we work and struggle and craft things to bring voice out, I sat back a little… As the saying goes, I gave myself some leash…I let things run further than I thought was safe. And you know what? Those lines and scenes are the ones I’ve already heard positive feedback on. Dive into your character and give her permission to do whatever she wants. Don’t just give her more leash, but drop it and chase her through the park until she wears you out.

     We read for escape, to let ourselves do and say and think and feel and experience all the things we don’t get to in our real lives. In our safe lives. If we keep those characters safe too, then where’s the escape?

     I’m not advocating off-the-wall’ness that’s so absurd it’s not “buy-able”…unless that’s what you write… But there is a line we as writers draw for ourselves in the sand. A line that stands between our world and our characters. Often, because of so many personal reasons, we try to drag our character over the line and keep her safely tucked into our world, because people are going to read this.

     So, what have I learned? Stop kidnapping your character. She doesn’t appreciate it.

     Writers – what have you learned about harnessing your voice? Readers – is their a writer who has a great “feel” to their books you love…what?

13 Responses to “Finding My Writer’s Voice”

  1. Kate Pearce January 27, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

    I think I began to notice a pattern and a rhythm to what I was writing and it just resonated with me, and I realized ‘that’ was how I wanted to sound. (Yes crazy unhelpful I know) A sentence is like a piece of fine crystal and I want to make it as crisp and clear and fine as I can.
    I’ll shut up now 🙂

  2. briaq January 27, 2010 at 1:23 pm #

    OH, I *love* that crystal comparison… I think that’s what part of mine was, finding the extra “crisp” bit.

  3. Katrina Williams January 27, 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    Great post!

    I have no idea what my voice is. I think it’s what’s missing from my MS that I can’t put my finger on. It reads too plain vanilla but I firmly believe voice is not something you can buy, borrow or steal. So “harnessing” my voice is not really the problem – it’s finding out what happened to the @#$% horse…maybe what you describe as your take away is what I need to try.

  4. Thomas John Brown January 27, 2010 at 2:03 pm #

    I just started writing about a year ago. I have always been able to come up with stories, but never did anything about it until I listened to my inner voice. I’m not published, nor do I care if I ever do get published. I just write because these characters and stories in my head need to exist outside of this piece of meat in my skull. Great post, and I can’t wait to read more from you…

  5. briaq January 27, 2010 at 2:36 pm #

    Katrina – it cracked me up that you called the idea of studying this revolutionary on the forum. But, this is my year of Voice, so i’m hoping it’s not too crazy 🙂

    Thomas – I think the things we write for ourselves are often the best. The first thing that got anyone’s attention wasn’t supposed to leave my laptop – good for you!

  6. Jeannie Lin January 27, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    I think finding what you like and amplifying it was the key for me as well. Akin to how a singer with a natural singing voice still needs to train to know how to really project it.

    You were one of the first readers to note that I’d found my voice. (The same thing Gwen did for you.) Which prompted me to go back and really find what it was and figure out how to make it sing.

    So who’s next? 🙂

  7. briaq January 27, 2010 at 3:31 pm #

    That means it’s your turn to pass it on 😉

  8. Cambria Dillon January 27, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

    Great post Bria. I’m definitely still trying to find my voice. I think I try too hard and then go through periods where I’m having a voice identity crisis. 🙂 What helps me *I think* is taking a quick breather – maybe a day reading instead of writing. But who knows? I’m not even sure what my voice is yet — light, dark, lyrical, witty — but I’ll keep trying to hone it, whatever it is, until I nail it. I need a Gwen (or a Jeannie) to say, “Eureeka baby! That’s it!”
    (Just throwing that out into the universe ;))

    Congrats on finding yours!

  9. briaq January 27, 2010 at 6:32 pm #

    Well, Gwen gave me, I gave Jeannie…. Call Jeannie, see if she’s free 😉

  10. December January 27, 2010 at 7:49 pm #

    its a certain Je ne sais qua.

    I think this is a key reason to have one or two trusted CP.s They know your voice, and they won’t try to erase it, but instead perhaps try to help tweak it for biggest impact.

  11. Steve January 27, 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    I’m working on a first novel. It’s YA in the first-person voice of a 14-16 year old female. I myself am a 63 year old male, so that’s already a tad interesting. 🙂 Fortunately, my all-time favorite writer, the late Robert A. Heinlein was pretty talented at writing outside his age and gender. His young female characters are perhaps not typical (neither are his older males, as far as that goes) but I find them believable, colorful, instructive, and fun.

    One technique Heinlein employs is the “why did I say THAT?”. It usually takes the form “This would have been an excellent opportunity to keep my mouth shut. Instead…”

    I did something that is similar, although in a bit different form. My character Kaitlyn has an “alien companion” – a metaphorical being from “somewhere else” that lives inside her head and causes her to say and do the unexpected.

    Here’s an example – sorry for the longish excerpt, but the alien intervention in this scene takes a little setup. Kaitlyn, from a modest background, has a scholarship to the oh-so-snooty Forest Academy prep school. She settles into an obscure seat in the auditorium for the first-day orientation lecture.

    I filed into the auditorium with some hundreds of my fellow students and found an inconspicuous seat. Not inconspicuous enough.

    I heard a voice from over my shoulder. “You’re new here, arent you?”
    I looked toward the voice. He was sandy haired – long but neat. Not
    tall – about my own height. He was smiling – but his eyes were doing
    something else. (To this day I’m not sure what).

    “Me and a couple hundred other freshmen”, I said, giving it a little
    “tough girl” attitude. “What’s your point.”

    “Not what I meant. You’re not from Forest Park.”

    It wasn’t a question.

    “So you know all the kids in Forest Park?”

    “No, but YOU I wouldn’t have missed.”

    “You need to fire your writer. My Dad uses that stuff to fertilize our
    garden”. I REALLY wasn’t ready to start my Forest Academy career
    fending off sleazy pickup lines.

    “Okay – so I’m full of BS. Where in Forest Park do you live.”

    Oops. He had me. Lie and claim a Forest Park address? I’d be sure
    to be found out. Admit he was 100% right and had spotted me for an outsider? The alien that lives in my brain picked that moment to take control. “I really don’t think you need to know where I live.” I heard my voice say. “You look like an unsavory character. Probably a stalker. Or a burglar. Do you even go to school here? Or did you just sneak in to get a rich chick’s address so you can come around in the dead of night and pilfer my jewelry?”


    I hope I made it clear that the “alien” is not “real”. It’s intended as a humorous personification of the gap between the “real” person that lives deep inside each of us and the surface “persona” that we construct for our social interactions – and may come to believe expresses who we are. So, saying something clever and appropriate, but outside the socially constructed “rules of conversational engagement” can appear as coming from “somewhere else”. Hence “alien-Kaitlyn”.


  12. Abby Stevens January 28, 2010 at 12:02 pm #

    I find my ‘voice’ is strongest when I am not thinking about it. When I overthink, I start changing all the interesting bits that actually make my MS unique.

  13. briaq January 29, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    Steve – I total agree you don’t have to be a teenager or a girl to write them… absolutely! I think that kind of goes along with what I was saying about your character not being you and not forcing them into “your box” kind of deal.

    Abby – exactly! I think it becomes like being proficient at a sport. There comes a time when you’ve worked hard and practice and a level of instinc kicks in when you can turn your brain off a little.

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