Thursday, August 09, 2007

Finding Your Voice

Posted by Lynne

When I was a little girl, my brother and sisters used to beg me to leave the station wagon, go up to the window and order our ice cream. They didn't really need to plead a case, because I liked taking charge and making my request known, though it was a bit tricky juggling six cones all the way back to the car.

For all the years I spent in school, my teachers never once wrote in my report card, should participate more in class. In fact no one has ever told me to find my voice. I've always had something to say.

If you're like me, writing provides the perfect vehicle to say a lot about many things. After all it isn't always socially appropriate to comment on everything you think and feel. Or perhaps you live quietly, choosing carefully when to speak, but in your writing you can express your deepest thoughts and opinions. Whichever type of person/writer you are--we all need voice.

The best writing has a strong voice. Characters who express themselves in unique and interesting ways. When they speak, whether you like them personally or not, you listen. What would Catcher in the Rye be without Holden's remarks about behavior he finds, "crumby?" Or how about Seth in Toni Morrison's gem, Beloved? I never once needed attributions for Seth's dialogue, I always knew when she was speaking.

Voice. The unique words, body language and tonal qualities our characters possess, set our writing apart from everything else. If you fear what some say about there being no new stories to tell, there's hope in finding voice. No matter what story you're compelled to tell, the character's voice--their view of the world and what's happening to them--changes everything.

Think about any story you've ever been told. Let's take the phone call from the agent story. You know there's a call. You know the news is good. What keeps you listening, sitting on the edge of your seat is the voice of the storyteller. Did she scream or swear? Or jump up and down like a game show contestant or make a grateful sign of the cross. Or did she retain a nonchalant demeanor, hang up the phone and decide to call the agent back to be certain she hadn't misunderstood the offer?

Author, Holly Lisle says, Voice is style, plus theme, plus personal observations, plus passion, plus belief, plus desire. Voice is bleeding onto the page, and it can be a powerful, frightening, naked experience.

You can't have voice if you don't know what you or your characters want to say. Each character in your novel allows you a venue for social commentary. Inhabit them. Ask each one what he or she wants or needs to say, next listen to the ways they choose to speak to you.

Then write it down.


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Bravo, Lynne. I find voice so intriguing--and I love when, as I'm writing, I feel I'm practically channeling a character through his/her voice. It's really what resonates with readers (we hope), isn't it?

And yes, my grade school report card frequently had an unsatisfactory next to the behavior "talks at the appropriate time" and when I was at BEA in 2005 on the "Emerging Voices" panel, my husband nearly choked at the idea that my voice wasn't already fully emerged.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...


I love your comments because they are full of voice. And once again they show we are cut from the same cloth!

Hope your draft is coming along--I can't wait to meet your new characters.


Therese Fowler said...

Lynne, you left out the author who cried when she heard from her agent! (Not that I know anyone like that...)

I love the way Holly Lisle describes voice.

Like Judy, when I'm writing I often feel more like a channeler than a creator.

And like both Judy and you, I have never been reticent to raise my hand in class--and maybe, now and then, talk out of turn. :)

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hi Therese,

Perhaps the common trait we share about speaking up and out is the reason we've never given up our dream of getting our words into the hands of readers. Cheers to talking out of turn!


Melissa Amateis said...

I'm one of those people who can go either way, depending on my mood. If I feel passionately about something and feel comfortable talking out loud, I'll go for it. But more likely than not, my voice is heard in my writing on a variety of fronts.

Voice is so important, but I think the tricky part is recognizing your OWN voice.

Larramie said...

My voice tends to have an understatement attached. ;

Lisa said...

I love what you said about inhabiting our characters. It's one of my favorite things to do. I love to get into a character's head and then write dialogue and thoughts that they'd have because of all the things I know about them.

Anonymous said...

Another one of those here, who has something to say on absolutely anything. And that harks from school days.
I was never afraid to raise my hand in class or for that matter walk up to the girls. I even had the duty to send love messages from my friends to their wannabe girl friends. Of course, in the process I became popular with the girls. ;)

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Sometimes when I inhabit my characters it's a bit scary to see out of someone else's eyes. Yet the characters I feel for most are of course my best drawn.

Indeed we writers have a lot to say both out loud and in print. I too was a note liaison. Funny the qualities we share.


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mbiencegroup said...

It can't work as a matter of fact, that's what I suppose.