This Thing Called Voice
Back when I was working on my first novel, after I had something loosely resembling a draft, I thought I’d better learn about the craft. While reading a book on writing, I discovered the term voice. According to some well-respected experts, voice is the be-all-end-all of why an agent decides to offer representation.
I wondered, what is this voice thing, anyway? Why use the word when referring to writing? Voice is speaking. Writing is, well, something else.
Of course, in a way, writing is speaking on paper. Back before books were invented, cavemen would tell stories by the campfire for hours. Some were made up, I’m sure, while others were passed down through generations.
Well, if voice is so important, and you happen to be a great storyteller, why not just record yourself and transcribe it? No need to edit draft after draft, right?
Consider some of the most engaging speakers on the planet. Do you think they just walked up to the podium and started talking? No. They, and their speechwriters, went through many drafts. They worked for weeks to get the wording perfect. And, of course, they all had lots of practice and years of study. The best speakers have fine-tuned their voice.
A novel is even harder to write. It needs to engage the reader for many hours. The plot has to follow a logical path, the characters must be fully developed, and the writing needs to be crisp rather than a meandering mess. Those first words put down on paper are probably not ready for publication.
Of course, voice is subjective. What one agent loves, another will find too flowery or too stark.
My writing has evolved over the years. The first and second books I wrote were intended for adults. I realized, though, that my voice is geared more toward a younger audience. I tend to write shorter novels, shorter chapters and shorter sentences. Honestly, the vocabulary I use is more limited than most adult writers. Also, I had what I thought was a killer idea for a teen novel, and I enjoy writing to a younger crowd.
My writing voice is not my natural speaking voice. I have read many books on writing and tend to follow the advice. My first drafts are mostly rubbish. Only by polishing and re-polishing can I create something remotely readable.
While talking to a friend of mine, I mentioned how much effort it takes to make writing sound casual, like the words had come easily from my mouth. It seems counterintuitive, I know, but the more you work at it, the more natural the writing sounds.
For me, at least, writing is not merely speaking on paper. This thing called voice takes work.
Tell me in the comment section, what does voice mean to you?