I have been thinking about voice in my writing. I have quite a few deficits in my creative writing, one of them being voice.

Voice is a critical factor–it’s the element that, if you get it right, can hook a reader right away and make him/her follow you for hundreds of pages, no matter what.

The irony is that I think I have it here on my blog, but not so much in my fiction. I have got to figure that out. The one time I wrote a story with an eye towards voice, it turned way too “voicey,” in a way that was utterly self-conscious, like the person who talks so loudly in a restaurant you know she is shouting for an audience.

There are those who think that a more backgrounded narrative voice is more attractive…but I’d just like to give voice a shot.   I think it’s a writer’s best friend when writing a novel.



Filed under Writing

7 responses to “voice

  1. You’re right, voice is critical in drawing a reader through a story. I just wonder how much it can be consciously achieved, or if it is an end-product of a writer’s style.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about, though. I’m concentrating so hard on moving forward with my novel that I haven’t spent much time considering the voice of what I’ve written. It’s now on my check-list for the redraft!

  2. so true, so true. voice is critical in any work of fiction, yet the more we try to emphasize it, the less believable it is. like you say, it’s like shouting in a restaurant.

    i’m pretty good about voice (not so much anything else). the old trick of reading my drafts aloud helps immensely.

  3. One good way to start building a strong voice is to hear the protagonist in dialog early on and play with their spoken words until the audible voice feels right. You can always axe or change the dialog later, but I find that if I’m writing in close third person or first person, it’s often easier to develop the narrative (non-dialogic) voice if I know how the person speaks first. Reading aloud, as Bookfraud said, can also be really helpful.

    I also find in my writing that characterization often follows voice, rather than vice versa. In other words, I sometimes play with and build a voice first — and the main character (what he/she thinks, does, etc.) follows from this.

    But ultimately, I think a work of fiction can emphasize any of the main story elements–voice, character, setting, scenes, plot, etc.–more or less and still be successful. A strong voice will often carry a story with a weaker/looser plot. Likewise, a strong sense of place can make up for a less personal or more transparent voice, etc.

  4. Interesting, because our mutual Famous Writing Teacher said several times in my workshop with her that other people’s pieces were “too voice-y” and that she didn’t like “voiciness.” At that time about half the workshop was also taking the Craft Class of She Whom I Worship Above All Writing Teachers. (I used to have a different name for her but have forgotten it).

    SWIWAAWT is the queen of voice -multi-voices – she is possessed by demons and do they have voices. All of us under her influence were writing work with strong voices. However I am also possessed by the voices of cold northern writers like Mavis Gallant – I don’t know why. So I was turning in work to Famous Teacher that was cold and sometimes strong-voiced but very … New Yorker-like. (1980s New Yorker – I wouldn’t want to make those generalizations now, when they feature Rushdie and Bolano).

    Yet I’d turn in something to SWIWAAT at the same time that was hot and voicey. When Famous Teacher criticized the work of my “voicey” friend, I felt like I’d been playing both sides against the middle. Had I turned in the voicey stuff to Famous Teacher she would have criticized me, too.

    My style was schizo at the time. Famous Teacher did catch me out – she said she didn’t really like the narrator of my cold Mavis Gallant-inspired story. She didn’t trust that narrator. I think that should be ok (why must all narrators be likable?) but I think she was also sensing my own deceptiveness in writing from that cold, New York, bitchy, eviscerating place which is part of me but beyond which I have grown. (I hope). I couldn’t sustain that tone because in the end it’s not totally me and I get stuck.

    Voice? Just let it rip… as you said, you have a strong voice in your blog. I hope to see how you integrate your many voices into your fiction.

  5. anonwupfan

    I’d say shake up your reading. You read a lot of translated stuff and/or younger authors (you have posted about this before.) If you get outside of your wheelhouse it could help firm up a voice for you.

    You could also try building around some WUP posts where the strong voice exists (the cab driver tangerine comes to mind.)

    No matter what I wouldn’t sweat voice too much, nobody will care if the voice is over-the-top if the writing is good (the difference between “voicey” and “strong voice?”)

    Those are my humble suggestions, I’m sure you’ll write your way out of it. Good luck.

  6. thank you for all your inputs and suggestions!

  7. i think that there are quite a few admirable writer with a “voice” as opposed to narrative skill. junot diaz, nick hornby, jd salinger, amy tan. so go for it. you can always tone the voice down later…

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