Voice. All readers (and literary agents) want to find the next great one, and all writers want to know what the heck it is. If voice were easy to define, then we wouldn’t have dozens of articles, books and classes to demystify the concept.
Today, I’ll put in my two cents and see if I can help some light bulbs go off.
Voice is—in its essence—that uniqueness that we as artists bring to the story. Remember, humans relied on an oral tradition for tens of thousands of years. We are a story people. Voice, in my opinion, is a holdover from that oral tradition.
Ah, but the original storytellers were not only the precursors of the modern writer, they were also the precursor to the modern actor.
I can imagine the one dude in the cave who used the most dramatic gestures and movements, who had the best inflection at just the right time when he told the story. He probably had the largest audiences…the ones who tipped the most.
I don’t care what anyone says, storytellers—WE—are the oldest profession 😉 .
Authors as Directors
Whenever we watch a movie, certain directors seem to stand apart. It’s easy to spot a Quentin Tarantino or a Francis Ford Coppola movie just from the style. What film is used, the light, the shots, what’s included, what isn’t.
Voice can be similar. For instance, Ernest Hemingway became famous for his economy of words when his peers at the time lived by the mantra, ‘No modifier left behind.’
It’s fairly simple to decipher Hemingway’s work from Faulkner with a glance at a page or two.
William Faulkner included expansive details, used long luxurious prose, and wrote sentences that could span over half a page. Hemingway, on the other hand? Brevity to the point of being almost sterile.
Stephen King will still say in thirty words what probably could have been said in five, but it doesn’t matter because his fans love his particular writing voice. If readers had wanted him to write leaner, they’d have penalized him in the 80’s before he ever became a household name.
Authors Have a Lot in Common with Actors
Actors use a technique known as ‘method acting’ to train themselves to behave realistically under imaginary circumstances. In method acting, the goal is to simultaneously stimulate two types of awareness—that of the character and the artist.
Writers, to some degree, are doing much of the same thing. But, instead of doing this with ONE character, we have the arduous job of doing this with all the characters.
It isn’t enough to be in the head of our main character. If we cannot also learn to empathize with the antagonist, and even core supportive characters, our writing can end up flat, lacking dimension.
I’ve read many a new writer whose characters all sounded like the same person…the writer. If one reads their dialogue aloud with no tags, it’s impossible to tell any of the characters apart.
The reason is because that the writer hasn’t yet matured enough to develop a strong authorial voice and doesn’t understand how to create differentiated character voice, which is a whole other bugaboo.
***Which is why Grace is teaching a class on CHARACTER VOICE this Friday. Go HERE and use New10 for $10 off. Remember, you get a free recording with your class.
Voice Can Affect Our Career
First of all, voice can affect our career because if we don’t have a solid voice, we won’t connect with readers. Don’t connect with readers and well?
Won’t sell any books.
We can have the best plot ever written, but if all the characters are talking heads, it doesn’t matter. We can have the most interesting characters, but if we cannot put them in an interesting and compelling story, we still have a problem (though, granted, an easier one to fix than the former).
Voice is something to consider when choosing what genre we want to write in, but that’s for another post on another day.
Voice and Empathy
A HUGE part of voice is our ability to empathize. The more we study the human condition, the easier we can get in the head of a character(s).
This is why reading fiction is so vital. By reading good fiction, we are essentially studying people through stories. This is how I can spot writers who don’t read.
Writers who read a lot of fiction are simply better at playing different parts and being convincing. We get lost in the story because they don’t all sound like the writer wearing a different mask and trying to ‘fool’ us.
Ah, but want to get even BETTER?
Broaden the Palette
Read NF, particularly psychology and sociology books. The more we study people, the easier it is to empathize and it will also ring as authentic. Read body language books. Study history, culture, local color. Absorb as much as you can.
Then get out of your comfort zone and live life. Take risks. I’ve visited a good part of the world, not all of it the pretty touristy spots either. I once traveled in a motorcade through the Syrian Desert all to have a locally famous Bedouin woman read my fortune in Turkish coffee grinds.
Yes, that’s a real thing.
Was either that or watch Bollywood soaps dubbed over in Arabic. We were seriously bored.
Also, that same week while in Bosra—I’m not kidding—we’d had no water in weeks (only crappy knock-off soft drinks). There was this ancient man with no teeth selling water ‘by the sip’ from a glass bottle he wore around his neck.
I literally handed him a stack of cash for the whole thing. Don’t judge me. As far as I was concerned, he was a genius entrepreneur who knew his market. Right man, right place, right time with right product.
Me? No figs given.
I’ve been stranded in France, lost in New Zealand, once shared a bathroom with chickens in Mexico, and nearly took out the undercarriage of a Mercedes driving through downtown Damascus at midnight.
No, I wasn’t speeding. The street lights sucked, the friggin’ speed bumps were WAY too tall, and no one bothered marking them with ANY reflective paint. You’d be driving and then BAMMO!
This traffic cop comes over to see what the noise is all about. Probably the wire hangers coming untwisted. I play damsel in distress, then hand him a couple fresh packs of Marlboros I’d brought along for just such a special occasion and thank him for his concern.
Nothing to see.
Now where’s that fried chicken place we were looking for?
Truth is stranger than fiction, which is why it is good to get out more.
FYI, it is miserably hot and nasty during the day so you go out to eat, get food, etc. all at night. So driving around looking for fried chicken in the middle of the night not nearly as weird as….
LIVE, then bring that to your craft. Get out among people, preferably people vastly different from you. Listen to them. Ask questions. Have a lot of experiences. Take part in the human condition.
Eat weird food, hang out with weird people, make friends with those who are different from you. You can always agree on something you all love #BabyYoda.
Volunteer work is wonderful for meeting an incredible crosshatching of people with all sorts of life experiences. Listen, take notes, take classes, take trips…take chances!
If our voice is our art, then how many colors, shades, textures and tools do you want to bring to the table? Sure, we are free to finger-paint with three primary colors, but the more shades we add, the more our art expands and the more voices we can speak with authenticity.
What are your thoughts?
I wonder if that was why authors/writers, historically, were viewed with such fear and reverence. If you look back, those guys and gals lived some CRAZY lives!
Any fun tales to share?
Come on. We won’t tell anyone who doesn’t read the comments 😀 .
Give yourself some goodies for Christmas. PANTS OPTIONAL!
I also have some treats, like a BRAND NEW class I’ve never taught before, and it turned out FANTASTIC. OMG BEST CLASS EVER for my FREAKY FRIENDS!
BTW WE FIXED THE API ERROR! Stripe was giving an API error for some of y’all trying to buy classes and we FIXED that! So get these classes while they are on sale before they are slated for deletion of stuck in cold storage.
ON DEMAND Dark Arts: HOLIDAY SPECIAL Building Your Villain is usually $55 and for the next few days is only $25. Three hours of psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists, pathology and how that applies to writing.
It is like the Behavioral Analysis Unit for Authors. Tres FUN! Villains are some of the most enduring characters in literature. Why not add your own legends to the list?
I’m also offering ON DEMAND! Holiday Sale! Story Master: From Dream to DONE. This class is to train you how to plot whether you’re a plotter, a pantser or a mix of both. It’s also a crash course in creating dimensional characters.
I love hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages (5K words) of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or fewer).
In the meantime, PLEASE treat yourself to a class! We have a TON of classes that we will be deleting or putting into cold storage come January and will no longer be available. So STOCK UP while you can.
The BIG SPECIALS (other than what I mentioned above)
Usually $55 and now only $25.
This is a THREE-HOUR class on guns, knives, weapons, fighting, law enforcement (from local cops to international espionage) and more. Everything you need to build a bad@$$—male OR female—and get the details CORRECT.
Usually $75 and now only $40.
Get prepped and ready for the new year, new you, new blog.
New Classes THIS WEEK FREE RECORDING INCLUDED
Thursday, December 12th, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST (NYC TIME). Use New20 for $20 off.
Friday, December 13th, 7:00-9:00 P.M. EST. Use New10 for $10 off.
NEW ON DEMAND CLASSES
Use New20 for $20 off
Use New20 for $20 off
Popular On Demand Classes
Use Binge10 for $10 off.
How do we create characters that readers will fall in love with, characters strong enough to go the distance? Find out in this THREE-HOUR class that also comes with detailed notes and a character-building template.
This class dovetails with my previous class: