Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What is "voice"

I've long struggled to be clear about what voice is. I've fumbled around on panels and often times resorted to the true-but-not-helpful "I know it when I see it."

Jessica Faust at BookEndsLLC nails it here.

Voice is one of the ways I can tell where a book goes on the shelf without being told the category.

 Posts like that are one of the reasons the BookEnds blog is on my must-read blog list. It should be on yours too.


Margaret Yang said...

The post from Ms. Faust certainly told you what to do. It doesn't, however, tell you how to do it. I find that my voice gets stronger with each draft, as I gain the confidence to state *exactly* what I mean. The writer needs to know the story intimately, so that she doesn't waffle or pile on the adjectives, but states things plainly.

Stephen King and Neil Gaiman both have excellent narrative voices, but if you read their prose sentence by sentence, it seems almost plain. They know their story so well, and are so good at using language, they can tell it straight out.

ryan field said...

"I've long struggled to be clear about what voice is."

Me too. But Jessica's post helped.

Jaleh D said...

That was a brief way of describing what makes voice so important, but not exactly helpful in creating it.

Personally I found Janice Hardy's post from a couple days ago more useful. Can You Hear Me Now? Developing Your Voice

Transparent Mama said...

Yes! Jessica nailed it.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Definitely so, especially when the category might not be so obvious from the first pages (i.e. there aren't robots running around to alert you you're reading SF). Moreover, voice is where we get much of the character of the work: the charm, the attitude, the tone, and so forth. It's one of those things that's not easy to identify, but even more difficult to tell how to implement.

CNU said...

Yes- the words "voice" and "tone" are both euphemisms for genre in modern terms.

This is actually the reason why most modern music tends to be complete junk:

No sense of genre in a vain attempt to garner a larger marketing demographic. It never works. Usually the product ends up being a disingenuous hodgepodge.

It's better to alienate some people, then have the work suffer. It's a lesson most haven't learned yet.

(Whether in music, literature or politics for that matter...)

It's an important topic I wish more people would discuss...


Rob Gregory Browne said...

Voice is, to me, simply the writer's literary personality. Or, perhaps, flavor. Like wine and coffee have certain flavors.

The words have a sound and rhythm to them that's distinctive to that particular writer. And your attraction to the work of any writer has almost everything to do with his or her voice.

Catherine Blakeney said...

Okay, despite all my readings of Query Shark, and despite all the assistance you and all the wonderful agents I read have been giving me over the last year, it really took that post from Jessica to finally get it through my thick skull that the query I was sending was a dud.

I rewrote it, this time trying to put as much of my "voice" into it as I could cram into 250 words.

And whaddaya know, I get fast reply from the first agent I send it to asking for a partial.

Thank you, thank you. Even if this one doesn't go anywhere, I finally know what I was doing wrong and why I was treading water before.

Now I'm going to strive to be the fish that got away from everyone else (even though it was my fault for sending a boring query.)