by Katherine Reay, @Katherine_Reay
“Voice” is so important – and, in many ways, so illusive. It’s unique. Yet every writer has one. It’s the narrative tone in which you feel most comfortable and it conveys your story with the greatest strength.
I was at MIBA’s (Midwest Independent Booksellers Association)fall conference last week and participated in a round of “speed dating” with bookstore buyers. Another writer and I were paired together and we traveled table to table to pitch our stories. Five minutes each. Talk fast. Move on. While some writers, I heard, had a bit of competition over their five minutes, my partner and I had a blast.
She was amazing… She finished her MFA a couple years ago and hated the literary fiction she was writing. She felt it was boring, and she said everyone else did too. She couldn’t sell anything. Then she started writing a humor column for a blog and a street-smart-bold-sassy-brash voice came out of her. She started having fun with the blog and the character, and the words flowed fast. A couple years later find her sitting beside me, pitching a hardcover book ready to drop next April by Random House.
I’ll tell you more about her book another time because I don’t want to get away from the point: VOICE.
Reading the story above, a writer might think it best to adopt a provocative, snarky, funny, or cynical voice to attract agents and publishers. But that would be missing the point of the above writer’s experience. It wasn’t that my new friend adopted this new tone to attract a contract; she unleashed it within her to tell a story. Catch the part about the words flowing? She said she couldn’t put them down fast enough –t the voice was within her and it wouldn’t be silenced. I experienced that myself with Dear Mr. Knightley. Sam Moore would not leave me alone until I laid out her story – and let her live it.
I suspect that happens often that happens when one finds a story’s voice. Thoughts and words, emotions and drama, flow more freely because they come from something creative, organic and exciting within the writer.
Without honing, refining and delivering your own voice, your story can create a layer of distance between you and the reader – and everyone can feel it. You never want that. Yes, you want to deliver 3-D characters, strong plot, and tense conflict – but most of all, you want to deliver impact. Distance dimishes impact. I say investing a little effort to discover and hone one’s voice is time well spent…
- Don’t think. Don’t edit. Plan to throw it away. Simply sit down (or stand at your desk as I do) and have fun writing whatever comes to mind,in whatever tone evolves. This is a great exercise to get the juices flowing and dig around for your unique voice. Don’t let this distract you from your work, but do give this a few minutes everyday. It may surprise you.
- Read novels with a strong sense of voice. Filling up your well of great stories is always a good idea. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is one of my all-time favorites. Death has a fascinating voice… To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Phantom Tollbooth and The Catcher in the Rye are other great examples – the last two being a couple of my favorite books.
- Share your writing with trusted readers. This is a tough one, but I do recommend it. Find a couple people you trust and share a variety of writings and ask what they think. In fact, that is how the woman in my story came to find her voice. Friends called her again and again asking, “Why don’t you write like this all the time?”
- Have fun! You’ll find my posts almost always include this. Perhaps because I need reminding myself. I can take this journey far too seriously at times and that is a sure-fire way to kill creativity, voice, expression and joy. So have fun!
Thanks for spending some time here with me today! A little time working on this all-important and somewhat illusive aspect of writing will make your stories more powerful, more authentic, and more saleable. All three are exciting adventures. Enjoy!
Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues – particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.
But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.
Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.
Katherine Reay is the award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy& Jane and The Bronte Plot, an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist. Her latest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, released in November 2016 and received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and a Romantic Times TOP PICK!All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. Sheholds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and isa wife, mother, rehabbing runner, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.