What Is ‘Voice’ And How The Devil Do You Find It?

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Every writer has heard some variation on it: ‘You need to find your voice’, ‘When you find your voice’, ‘Wow, I love that author’s voice’ — what in the world does this mean? We’re writing, not speaking, RIGHT? How can we be talking about a voice when reading is silent? (Don’t bring up reading aloud, smart-butt, keep your snark to yourself.) A lot of writers seem very concerned with voice and finding it and making sure they don’t ‘lose’ it.

I’m going to be totally honest with you for a second: I found mine by accident. I wasn’t even looking for it. There was no dangerous quest involved, and I certainly didn’t consult a wizard on the matter. (I mean, honestly, what would they know about writing anyway? They probably would just use some sort of magical means which is just CHEATING.)

My voice wasn’t stuck magically in a stone, nor was it hidden in the tomb of an Egyptian Pharaoh.

Strangely enough, it was inside of me the whole time, right in plain sight, not even hidden. And so is yours.

I got into writing by accident, so it makes sense that I would find my voice also by accident. My first few stories were just me playing around with this alter ego character I created as a means for emotional outlet. I was writing a Mary Sue story and living vicariously through it. Sound familiar? Yeah, we writers are a predictable bunch.

After I matured past that point, my first real attempt at a novel was in an effort to show-up all the other vampire writers emerging from the woodwork. (Think mid-2000s: we all grew up on Buffy, then Twilight, then True Blood–there were a lot of us undead lovers.) Again, typical writer–I wanted to show the way to write a more original, not cliche type of vampire story. (I did not succeed on that first attempt, but we won’t talk about that.)

The point of my writing origin story is simply to demonstrate how I was very young, and not at all concerned about mechanics like ‘plot’, ‘character-development’ & certainly not ‘voice’. I was just writing for the pure fun of it, and out of a place of naive superiority complex issues.

By the time I released by first books, Only The Stars Know & Shadows On The Wall, I had got over myself (mostly), and characterization & plot became much more important to me. I was growing as a writer, as a person and was starting to have some alarmingly adult moments. Still though, I was unconcerned with this phantom concept of voice. I’ve never been the kind of writer to doubt whether I’m any good (I’m sure that’s probably caused more problems than it solved.) See, I love my stories, they entertain the heck out of me. I had little doubt that people who enjoy the genre would also enjoy my books.

I can’t recommend blind, un-self-conscious writing, highly enough.

Don’t overthink it. Don’t wallow in, ‘but does this work?’ You should be enjoying writing. It should be the purest form of joy you know. Save the self-doubt and questioning everything for editing. That’s what it’s there for. Drafting should be fun.

The discovery that I had a ‘voice’ was brought upon me from an external source. My best friend finished reading either book 1 or 2 (I honestly can’t remember which one it was), looked up and me and said, “It’s crazy.”

Naturally, my heart plummeted to the floor. I mean, I know I’m a little insane, but was my book that bad?

“It was like, it was like you were reading to me, or telling me a story. I could hear you saying all the words. I wonder if that’s the case with all writers.”

From the depths of the void, my heart fluttered, and then began to rise. Rise, and fly.

And that’s when the epiphany slowly eased upon my mind: I have a voice. My books have my voice. My voice is my voice. (I see that look on your face, no I’m not losing it, let me explain.)

My voice is my voice.

What in the world is that supposed to mean? It means that my writing ‘voice’ sounds like my speaking voice. Writers are natural story tellers. There is nothing I love more than bursting into a rendition of some occurrence and reciting the whole story, with voices, hand gestures, and plenty of embellishment. I don’t just tell stories on the page, I tell them aloud to my friends and family. Think Big Fish-style.

That same way I tell stories out loud has translated, apparently, to my writing. I never did it on purpose, I just started writing down the stories in my head, and they came out naturally the way I would have spoken them to my best friend.

At the time of my epiphany I was working on book 3, Die For Me Again. When I realized that my ‘voice’ was evident and a good thing, I started to play to it. I let more and more of myself slip into the writing. What followed is, to date, my favorite published work (this will change when book 4, Tears You Apart, comes out later this year.) Die For Me Again, in my ever humble opinion, leaps out of the binding with a pure Shannon-esque grandeur and insists you hear the tale. You hear the tale. With all of my snark, blind faith in the Magic, and undiluted love for the characters. I let my voice shine in that book.

So why is voice so hard to find?

There are two reasons.

One: You’re looking so hard for it, you can’t see the forest for the trees. (Translation: you’re over-thinking it, silly. Chill out.)

Two: You’re trying to ‘create’ your voice. Writing, and all forms of art really, is derivative. Most writers can point to a book, a series, an author, who wowed them so much it made them want to write. (*waves* Hi Tamora Pierce!)

Many times our early work will be some variation on a story we’ve loved. Like children learning to speak, we mimic that which we’ve read. Normally, after your first few tries, you’ll start to find your own things to say, your own ideas and characters and themes. Other times, we stick so hard to what is ‘good’ and ‘successful’ that we are inadvertently trying to be the next J.K. Rowling, Stephen King or C.S. Lewis. What you’re doing, in this case, is trying to use someone else’s voice. And that won’t work. It won’t sound authentic, it won’t flow, and at best you will always be the derivative of someone better.

Stop trying so gosh-darned hard. Be you. Try to sound like you. Don’t try to sound like anyone else. You can’t pull it off. And you shouldn’t want to.

Admire the writers who’ve inspired you. Look up to them. Don’t try to be them.

How can anyone love your writing, be inspired by your writing, if you are hiding you? If you’re trying to disguise your natural voice and sound like someone else? You’ve heard the saying, “The world needs your book.” Well, your book needs your voice.

Where the devil is your voice? Tell me a story, and pretend I’m your best friend in the whole world. There. There’s your voice. Right there inside of you. Convenient, right?

Save the dangerous quests to the genie’s cave of wonders for your book.


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3 thoughts on “What Is ‘Voice’ And How The Devil Do You Find It?

  1. It’s been in the last two rounds of beta readers that anyone brought up voice (as far as I can remember) and that they can tell I “have it”. I’ve never thought about it much. What I did do, though, is stop struggling. When I feel a struggle with the words, I stop, take a breath, and words just surface. Kind of like I’ve been swirling water and oil around and around together, trying to chase the oil down and get it out, but l needed to do was still the waters, wait for a moment, let it separate, and scoop.

    Gosh, I hope that makes sense. Anyway! Enjoyed this! :o)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! 🙂 Yes, it makes sense! And you definitely do have your voice. I think it’s something that develops and evolves naturally — there’s just a lot of writers who overthink or try to engineer their craft. Some things just take time and experience.

      Like

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