Friday, August 10, 2012

The Secret to Voice -- 6 Ways to Achieve It


Oh gosh, this little word gave me such a nightmare in my first manuscript, when agents kept saying it was so important. It KILLED me.

What makes voice so difficult? Is it because it is so elusive? An inexplicable, "I'll know it when I see it"? Voice is frequently heralded, by agents, as one of the top reasons they turn down manuscripts: the difference between slush and publication.

The best way, I found, to KNOW voice, was to read books that had it. This meant THE CATCHER IN THE RYE (which, I feel, should be the epitome and golden standard in voice. I kept reading because I lovveed the voice), and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (kept reading because it was so addicting). Those are the two main ones I feel really stood out to me in voice. Mostly, anything John Green, like LOOKING FOR ALASKA. But Salinger (THE CATCHER IN THE RYE). Oh my, Salinger. His voice is excellent. So authoritative, so fun, so... addicting! He is THE literary voice.

That is what voice is. It makes your book addicting to read, and readers won't know why they keep reading it. That is why voice is so important. You know how you read some pages for critiquing and you can just tell they sound like they came from a 'real' book? That's voice.  Voice is crucial. That scares me too guys, don't worry :) My first MS was a bombshell, partly due to voice (which is why I'm rewriting it later on).

So how do you get voice?

1. Write 1st person. Never an easier way than this, but also dangerous if you do it wrong. Voice is basically all about getting spice in the way you say write things. If you don't write 1st person, don't fear. Here is a way to sidestep it. Write your entire book in a 1st person omniscient narrator, or a 'ghost' or future self of your real main character who 'sees' what is going on to your main character, and then, once you are done, delete every instance the narrator comes up. The ghost of the voice will remain, even though you've turned it into a 3rd person limited or omniscient novel.

2. Imagine yourself inside the main character's head. This is basically like the 1st person rule, but just pretend you ARE the main character, and you are telling us everything that is happening from the way they see it. Main thing is, bring some personality into it.

3. Write. Write, write, then write some more. I've realized it is SO much easier to find your literary voice after you've finished your first manuscript, or you've written a lot. Find a voice that fits you. One you are comfortable with. I think JK Rowling said something like you will invariably copy your favorite writers in the beginning, and that is fine. I did that with my first manuscript, and that is why it needs a complete rewrite.

4. Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought. (A little Zen there.) Develop your own voice, and perfect it. I honestly don't think anyone will be able to copy Salinger's voice in THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. It is so authentic, and if anyone tries to copy it, it will be so blatantly obvious. It will be futile to try copying someone else. It is your book, in the end. Make it yours.

5. Develop your own style.  I read this from somewhere, but the golden standard of voice is where someone can pick up your book, without seeing the author or title, and tell you wrote it.

6. Write in longhand. Kind of an odd one to end this off with, I know, but trust me, IT WORKS! Writing with pen and paper has helped me soooo much in my new WIP. I tried to use the computer but it felt... wrong. Longhand is freeing, and its more passionate than clicking keys. Plus, you don't go back and delete what you just wrote, because line slashes just look bad, so you don't do them too much. Plus, horrible handwriting it's easy to pretend my horrible handwriting does not consist of words, so I don't read and edit it when I don't want to. Thus, my writing is fresher and not sucked dry.

So, if you've been having problem with voice, try some of these tings :) I think even one of them would help tremendously, and try the longhand one :) That worked the best for me. Thank you!

Have you had trouble with voice? What are your methods to achieving it?


  1. Putting myself in my character's head was difficult at first, mostly because my main character was a bit of a pain in the ass.

  2. Voice is definitely something you can't largely teach. You can give hints, suggestions, but because it's hard to define and every author's voice is different...well, it's hard. Especially for new writers who haven't seen it a lot to get what it is.

    I had a hard time with this in my first book, too! With each book I write, I think I get a little better.

  3. Copying someone else voice helped me to a degree. I copied a paragraph and imagined it was my story. Then I looked over, saying, "I wouldn't have said that in those words. And I most certainly wouldn't have did those actions."
    Then, I changed it like I would have written it.
    Now, there's *my* voice!

  4. Loved this post.

    I think voice is one of the very few things (or only thing) I haven't had trouble with (or maybe I'm just delusional and will find out the truth later.) Maybe because I've always had these certain feelings that I want to project in my writing that I feel degrees of in my life, it's been easier for me to have voice. But I don't know.

    It's basically why I signed up under the name "Death Author" on blogspot. It was a reflection of part of my voice.