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Voice: What is Writing ‘Voice’ & Why is It Important to Storytelling?

voice, writing voice, character voice, storytelling, Kristen Lamb, writing tips

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

voice, writing voice, character voice, storytelling, Kristen Lamb, writing tips

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

voice, writing voice, character voice, storytelling, Kristen Lamb, writing tips

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

Baby Yoda’s career seems solid….

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?

*crickets chirping*

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

voice, writing voice, character voice, storytelling, Kristen Lamb, writing tips

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?

#NotMakingThisUpFolks

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….

Moving on!

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.

NEW! HOLIDAY ON DEMAND: How to Write Deep POV by #1 Best Selling Author Maria Grace! Normally $55 now $25

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)

On Demand: Beyond Bulletproof HOLIDAY Barbie

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.

Spilling the HOLIDAY Tea: On Demand Blogging for Authors

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

Tick Tock: How to Plot Mystery Suspense Series

Thursday, December 12th, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST (NYC TIME)Use New20 for $20 off.

Can You Hear Me Now? Developing Character Voice

Friday, December 13th, 7:00-9:00 P.M. EST. Use New10 for $10 off.

NEW ON DEMAND CLASSES

Bite-Sized Fiction: How to Plot the Novella

Use New20 for $20 off

Why Are We HERE? Scenes That HOOK

Use New20 for $20 off

Popular On Demand Classes

The Art of Character: Writing Characters for a SERIES ON DEMAND

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:

Bring on the Binge: How to Plot and Write a Series (ON DEMAND). Use Binge10 for $10 off.

Need some help with platform and branding?

Branding: WHEN YOUR NAME ALONE Can Sell (ON DEMAND)

Use brand10 for $10 off.

For the complete list, go to the OnDemand Section.

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  1. What time zone is the Friday class in? If I can’t make it, you said we get a recording, right?

    1. All classes are listed Eastern (NYC). But yes, you always get a free recording anyway in case you can’t make it but also so you can relax and go back over the information later.

    • Barbara on December 10, 2019 at 4:14 pm
    • Reply

    I forgot to put in New20 for $20 off. Can I do it now?

    1. I sent you an email 🙂 .

      1. Your email is bouncing back. Yes, just refund it, then repurchase. Or email me at kristen at wana intl dot com

  2. I finally read “The Picture of Dorian Gray” a couple of years ago. All the characters sound like Oscar Wilde.

    As for crazy things I’ve done… h’m. Getting caught in a tidal bore… Landing in a five-seater plane – as passenger – on airstrips that dogleg (you do a low flyover first to clear off the grazing cattle), or go up the side of a hill, or are basically just the shaved-flat top of a mountain ridge… Literally climbing the walls when my cat brought in a Papuan Black (most venomous of black snakes)…

    But that was my childhood. Earthquakes aside, my adulthood has been positively mundane.

  3. ‘LIVE, then bring that to your craft. ‘ Yes, in caps with exclamation marks. 😀
    I haven’t been as adventurous as you, but I have been up in a glider – who knew that would be so useful when trying to imagine how an iVokh would fly? Pictures of birds and videos are great, but they don’t give you the /feel/ of what it’s like to be floating in absolute silence as you ride a thermal. And who knew an obsession with Bruce Lee would come in so handy when… Ahem, never mind. 🙂

  4. Darling, Baby Yoda. Yep, the eyes are the windows of the soul… Oh wait, we’re discussing voice. Mine has been developing for years, one of the rare gifts of aging, but I think it matured considerably after my mom died. I finished a post today, which will go live this weekend exploring whether it’s necessary to suffer in order to create great art. I guess we’ll see if anyone else agrees with me.

    • rachelcapps on December 10, 2019 at 9:39 pm
    • Reply

    Great post 🙂 I agree, writing/storytelling is the longest lasting profession.

    Hmm… don’t know if it was daring but I was seriously mad. At 21, travelling in America with my Dad (I’m Australian), he pissed me off so I left him, caught a Greyhound from San Fran to LA (we drove right through the LA riots) and I changed my flight and flew back home without him. That was definitely a strong clash of opinions that led to a strong want.

    1. CRAZY CHICKS UNITE!

    • Rhonda Lane on December 12, 2019 at 3:32 pm
    • Reply

    Even though I’ll be out tonight freezing my asparagus off at my weekly horse riding lesson, I registered for Tick Tock. Seeya on the recording! And thank you!

    • Barbara Ryan on December 13, 2019 at 9:26 am
    • Reply

    I was unable to access Tick Tock as the Big Blue Button kept refusing me entrance saying it did not recognize my password. I didn’t remember providing a password when I registered on 12/10 for $55 and thought something had gone wrong with my registration. On 12/12 I registered again, this time for $35. I got the same result. This morning I checked my bank account and saw both payments had been taken from my account under WANAINTL.com. I don’t know why I couldn’t access the course, but I would like a refund for both registrations.

    1. We had to reset the class because the password wasn’t working. We held class after the the bug was worked out. You should have gotten an email telling you that. I have refunded your money, regardless. So sorry for the inconvenience.

        • Barbara Ryan on December 14, 2019 at 10:10 am
        • Reply

        Thank you for refunding my two reservation charges. I didn’t get an email that you reset the class because the password was not working. I’m glad it wasn’t just my password that wasn’t able to get through.

        1. Would you like to get those classes On Demand? I can give you a holiday price break. Email ME at kristen@ wanaintl.com since I have had issues with your email and I will get you hooked up.

  5. I went to Israel in the mid-70’s. Thought I might want to live there. I was definitely not on the tourist track. Got some invitations from some scary people to stay with them. Nah. Stayed n a youth hostel instead. Visited the ancient city. Spent time on a kibbutz. I had a job offer. They wanted me to get in on the ground floor of their chicken coop thermostat business (I was an electronic technician, sort of. Not really my life calling). I declined on the chicken coops. Got sick on the food. Went into cultural shock. Had to go home. Never forgot the experience though. Spent the last night before my flight out as a guest at the home of an orthodox family, seder, etc. But after all that, my strongest impression is how good American plumbing is. Seriously. It matters.

    My problem is, none of that counts much. I’m writing scenes in Italy because I really have no choice, the story goes there. But I’ve never been to Italy, probably never will. But I have to figure out how to write abut it with some credibility. Sigh.

    1. It counts because of FEELING. You can channel those emotions, the adrenalin, the experience. And what cool stories!

    • Jean Lamb on December 16, 2019 at 2:47 pm
    • Reply

    The list I have is pretty good. Learning how to do a barrel roll in a T-38 (that was *fun*). Hoping the tornado would go over our house and not through it. Being a nurse’s aide. Selling Worldbook and Childcraft door to door. Falling off a donkey in front of 2,000 people. Dancing in seven ounces of purple lace at a World SF convention. Being a nude model for an line drawing class. Helping to raise a schizophrenic child. Helping to drive the whole family from Oregon to Memphis…and back (we all lived!). Running the park activities for the town 4th of July. Learning routines on the balance beam (badly). Caregiver for someone with lymphoma and Fun Kidney Issues. Selfpubbind five novels. Helping out at a campaign office. Explaining to people that ‘no, you really can’t take that deduction’. Losing my feet from the stirrups and discovering that the horse thinks knee signals means ‘go faster’. Discovering I play golf better one beer down. Hanging around some really interesting people, in the military, in Jaycees, and just around town. Dealing with the guy who brought in a tarantula (in a plastic case) to the library. Oh, and the earthquake and the fun aftershocks.

    Looking back, I’ve had a weird life.

  1. […] end the story conveys a meaning to the reader beyond what happens in the plot. Kristen Lamb tackles “voice” and why it is important to storytelling, Jim Dempsey tells us how to manipulate your reader’s point of view, and Kathryn Craft discusses […]

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