DISCOVERING THE ME IN THE MANUSCRIPT
The Writer’s voice
* “I’m so unhappy with my editor. I’m afraid she’s taking away my voice in this piece.”
* “I don’t want to submit my story. It’s a part of me. What if they don’t understand my voice?”
* “My voice will be lost if I worry about the mechanics of writing.”
*+ “Your writer’s voice is so distinct.”
These are comments I’ve heard on and off over the past couple of years, and frankly, this concept of voice still puzzles me a bit. What is it? Our style? Our accent? At a writer’s forum I attended recently, several writers worried about their voices. To be honest, that’s really the last thing I think about when I write…if I think about it at all.
Okay, I do believe that every writer has a distinct voice. I don’t think we can escape it. To me, it’s a little like how where you live affects how you speak. Frankly, I’ve always believed that I speak in unaccented American…you know, like the news anchors? But as I’ve traveled around, people in different areas of the US have mentioned my accent.
I’m from Northern California. Not the Bay Area, but north of the Sacramento Valley, and oddly enough, I’ve come to realize that we do have a regional accent. You know the actor Sam Elliot? He’s got that silky, sexy drawl that we love to hear in the beer commercials. He’s from Texas, right? The South? Nope. He was raised in the Sacramento Valley. My brother’s accent is exactly the same.
In fact, my oldest daughter works on a private yacht with an international crew. She’s the chef, and has been known to launch into the occasional verbal tirade when she’s alone in the galley. She says the Kiwis like to come in and listen to her tantrums because of her “redneck accent.”
So what does this have to do with your voice as a writer? Well, it’s there. You can’t really escape it, unless you’re spending a lot of time with technical or academic writing. If an editor wants you to clean up the grammar of your narrative, she’s not asking you to stifle your voice, she wants you to do your job and write properly. As a general rule, your editor will respect your writing and her advice will make your story better without robbing you of your voice.
There are times when I feel that my voice has become stiff and uninspired. I’m not talking about writer’s block. That’s when nothing comes at all. Sometimes I feel like the words are coming out by force, like maybe I’m not the one writing at all.
Perhaps there is stress in the household or I’m simply disconnected from the story that I’m trying to tell. Or maybe I’ve just finished a project and have turned to another, and haven’t captured the new personalities that I’m working with. When that happens, I have a few tricks to loosen up my mind and free that elusive voice.
* I have conversations in character. Okay, that might seem a bit weird. I used to act so walking around verbalizing is something I did to learn lines. If you can’t open your mouth and let your character speak, do it in your head. Go sit in a comfy chair, or lie down on the sofa and ask your characters what’s going on. Visualize the scenario they are in, and watch their actions and reactions to each other. Know your characters! I prefer to worry about the voices of my characters rather than my voice as a writer.
* Listen to music. Music digs into our brains on various levels. You know how a song gets stuck in your head? Music is a great tool for learning, as well as for setting mood. Try listening to the Beatles or Chopin or Barry White. Listen to the mood of the music. Many authors have soundtracks for stories. Belle Starr was written to the music from the Japanese Anime Cowboy Bebop. It’s a wild, fierce jazz number by a band called Tank. I think that single song really shaped the entire story.
* Read poetry. Find a writer that works for you. It might be Bob Dylan or John Donne. Poetry is the height of language and has an inherent flow and meter. You’ll expand your vocabulary and I’ve found my narrative moves better when I’ve taken a poetry break. Right now I’m reading Silky Thefts by Michael Jennings.
* Sing. Dance. That’s taking the music and poetry and moving it to another level. You’re integrating your body into the rhythm of the music and getting your circulation moving.
* Just tell the story. Frankly, that’s a pretty good avenue to take. So it might be stiff and ugly, but if you sit down and hammer out the story, you’ve got the framework finished. That’s the hard part. When you’re feeling more inspired, go back and fluff it up. Indulge in your creativity and play with your characters. Have fun. It’s easier to do when you have the roadmap instead of the roadblock.
Writing is certainly a creative art, but it’s also a craft…a discipline. If you approach it as a job that needs to be done, you will learn to work through the rough times. Your voice is there because it’s the part of the story that is inherently you. If you belabor the idea of your ‘voice’ your writing will become self-aware. It’s like watching an actor on stage who is aware of the fact that they are acting. Don’t act the role, be the role! In writing, don’t worry about your voice or it will become just another character on your page.
So when you sit in front of that blank page with your list of things to worry about, strike “Voice” off that list. It’s there if you let it come out. And no one can take it away. Not even your editor.
Belinda writes erotic romance in several genres, including m/m, ménage, science fiction, paranormal, and whatever else strikes her fancy. She lives in the far north of California with a bunch of Siberian Huskies and a Chihuahua named Squirt. She is published at Loose Id, Changeling Press, and New Concepts Publishing.
Please visit her website at http://www.belindamcbride.com
Her blog at http://www.belindam.blogspot.com