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Guest Blogger: Jodie Renner: Voice

23 Jul

Voice: that elusive but critical ingredient of powerful fiction


Voice – what is it exactly?

 

Literary agents and acquiring editors always say they’re looking for fiction with a compelling, unique, fresh, natural voice. Then when asked to define it, they hum and haw a bit, searching for the right words to try to capture what they mean by a voice that appeals to readers and makes them want to keep reading.

 
From what I’ve gathered from my varied reading and workshops, the ideal “voice” is that natural, appealing, charismatic tone and style that draws us in and makes us feel like we know the characters well—and want to get to know them better!

 

How can we develop an appealing voice?

 

These tips, a mix of advice from others and my own ideas, will be helpful to both fiction and nonfiction writers who are still in the process of finding their voice or fine-tuning it to make it more relaxed, powerful and appealing.

 
* Don’t lecture your readers. As Bruce DeSilva said in his workshop on this topic at Craftfest, many aspiring authors need to first free themselves from the constraints of their more formal, correct writing background, especially if it includes graduate degrees and a lot of legal, academic or business writing. So shake yourself loose of all those constraints and find your more casual, accessible, appealing inner voice. How do you do that?

 
* Write in a clear, direct way. Forget all those long, convoluted sentences and pretentious words and learn to write in a clear, direct, accessible, casual style that evokes the senses and appeals to the emotions. Streamline your writing!

 
* Write to one person. To help develop a closeness with your readership and a conversational tone, create or choose one single person you’re writing to, who is warm, friendly, open to your ideas, interested, and intelligent. DeSilva suggests choosing a close friend or family member to write to, but personally, I advise against writing to someone in your inner circle, as you might end up skipping over a lot of details and points that need to be there for other readers who don’t share your basic frames of reference. So I suggest creating an ideal reader. Write a brief description of their age, gender, background, home and work situation, personality, and interests (which of course include reading your kind of writing!). Get to know them a bit by giving them some positive attributes that will help you feel comfortable and open with them. Then target your writing to this person. Relax and let the real you come through.

 
* Read and imitate writers whose voice you really enjoy. Don’t copy their words verbatim, of course, but immerse yourself in their story world, told in their unique voice. Read their books aloud to really internalize the rhythm of their language, the phrasing and expressions and word choices that appeal to you so much. Then of course adapt the cadence and rhythm and attitudes and vocabulary to your own situation.

 
* Write a chapter in first-person, then change it to third person. One author whose voice I love is Janet Evanovich, whose spunky, quirky heroine, Stephanie Plum, narrates her story in first-person point of view. But it’s hard to write first-person well, and it can be limiting, as you’re confined to scenes where this character is present. Also, first-person isn’t always the best choice for, say, a thriller, as you want other viewpoints in there, too, notably that of the antagonist. But try writing several pages or a chapter or two in first-person (“I”), to develop your main character’s unique voice, then just go back and rewrite them in third person (he/she), with as few changes as possible.

 
* Read your story out loud to test its authenticity and easy flow. As DeSilva says, your writing should have the rhythm and comfortable familiarity of spoken language. If it doesn’t flow easily, go in and streamline the language to take out the convoluted sentences, clunky phrasing, and fancy-shmancy words. Or hire a trusted writer friend or reputable freelance editor to go through it for you to take out anything that sounds too formal, wordy, or erudite.

 

* Write in deep point of view or close third. This means the story is unfolding mainly through the thoughts and reactions and emotions and attitudes of your protagonist. Even descriptions of your setting should be filtered through your protagonist’s (or other POV character’s) preferences, views, and mood. This ensures that your whole novel has a great, unique voice, not just the dialogue.

 
* Give each character their own voice. When you’re writing dialogue, each character should sound different, with their own unique speech patterns, word choices, slang and expressions, based on their milieu, upbringing, education, and personality. Listen in on all kinds of conversations, both in real life and on TV and in movies. Develop an ear for how different people speak. To improve the idiosyncratic speech of a character in your novel, try journaling in their voice, in first person. Just write freely, using lots of attitude! Eventually, you’ll get into their rhythm and find the words that seem to suit them best.
So break free from the constraints of your background, education, and any more formal work-related writing, and write the story only you can write, with your unique background and experiences and personality, in your own direct, open, interesting voice. Don’t hold back—reveal yourself.

 

 
Jodie Renner is a freelance editor specializing in thrillers, mysteries, and other crime fiction, as well as YA, mainstream and historical fiction. Jodie’s craft-of-fiction articles appear regularly here and on five other blogs. For more information on Jodie’s editing services, please visit her website at www.JodieRennerEditing.com.

 
Jodie’s e-booklet, Writing a Killer Thriller – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Powerful Fiction, is available for your Kindle and also as a PDF, both for just $0.99.

 
13 Comments

Posted by on July 23, 2012 in Guest Blogger, Writing

 

13 responses to “Guest Blogger: Jodie Renner: Voice

  1. Jodie Renner

    July 23, 2012 at 10:54 am

    It’s nice to be back on your excellent blog, Doug! Thanks for hosting another one of my craft-of-fiction articles. And it was great to see you again this year at Craftfest and Thrillerfest! You did a wonderful job organizing Craftfest, as always, with a stellar line-up of presenters!

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  2. Terry Odell

    July 23, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Voice is that “something” that can’t be taught; it develops over time, but it’s there. Even when an author writes different genres under different names, there’s that “recognition” factor for readers. For me, when the words flow fast and furious, that’s when I know it’s my voice coming across. When I plod along searching for words, or how to say something, it’s going to come out sounding all “writerly” and that usually means 1) it’s not “me”, and 2) it’s going to be cut.

    Terry
    Terry’s Place

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  3. Donis Casey

    July 23, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Just yesterday I read a fascinating definition of voice in a book called “The Making of a Bestseller”, by Brian Hill and Dee Power. They said, “Voice is the one thing that can’t be taught. It’s the author’s own fingerprint, their unique storytelling style.” That resonated with me, since the moment I began to write from an authentic place, I began to get published.

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  4. Jodie Renner

    July 23, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Thanks for your comments, Terry and Donis. I’ll be looking for that book, Donis. I agree with both of you that voice is something that can’t be taught, but there are techniques that writers can use to help them get rid of old bad habits, like overly correct scholarly writing, and tune into their inner, more casual, more intimate, authentic voices.

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  5. Pat Marinelli

    July 24, 2012 at 5:56 am

    “tune into their inner, more casual, more intimate, authentic voices.”

    Jodie, this is so true. When I write with a casual intimate voice, my critique partners tell me that is my best writing. It pulls the readers in to my story and makes them ‘feel’ my characters.

    Love all you writing articles and just purchased and downloaded your book.

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  6. Jodie Renner

    July 24, 2012 at 8:12 am

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Pat! I think when we aim our writing at that one, receptive, kind, interested person, this helps us find that casual voice.

    And thanks for your kind words about my articles and for buying my book! If you like it, maybe you’ll stop back there and write a brief review. I look forward to reading your novel!

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  7. Robin Burcell

    July 24, 2012 at 8:27 am

    Hi Jodie,
    I always enjoy reading your entries on Doug’s blog (thanks, Doug!), so glad to see you’re back. I can remember re-reading some of my very early attempts written a few decades ago, amazed at how very proper I wrote. Clearly I didn’t recognize it at the time, since way back then I thought it was great writing. We write how we’re taught, and we’re taught to write for business more than art. It really takes some effort to change years of schooling once we decide to pursue writing as an art form, ignoring the rules of writing and allow that inner voice to come out.

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  8. Jodie Renner

    July 24, 2012 at 8:36 am

    Thanks, Robin, and glad you enjoy my craft-of-fiction articles that appear here and on other blogs – even my own occasionally! LOL

    It’s so true about how most of us have been taught to write correctly, and it’s hard to break those “proper English” habits and loosen up a bit and try to reveal our inner selves more in our fiction writing. And blog posts have made nonfiction writing aimed at a general readership more casual and “chatty” in tone, too.

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  9. pegbrantley

    July 24, 2012 at 9:10 am

    My voice seems to come out the easiest when I’m in The Zone and barely aware of what I’m writing. I get Peg (and her internal editor) out of the way and play in the mud.

    Jodie, I think it’s a sign of a very good editor to understand that quality fiction and voice don’t always conform to what we learned as quality writing. Thanks for another great post!

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  10. Jodie Renner

    July 24, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Thanks, Peg. And judging by your first novel, Red Tide, you’ve definitely got this concept down pat!

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  11. Recommend this

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    • Jodie Renner

      April 22, 2013 at 9:28 am

      Thanks for your interest and support! This is a great blog, isn’t it! I’m always thrilled to be a guest blogger here. I also have my own blog, JodieRennerEditing, with blogspot.

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