Voice.  It’s the one thing that will make a writer wax poetic for hours.  Do you have a voice?  Is it an authentic voice?  Is it a consistent voice?  Is it a strong voice?  Can I lose my voice? (OK, I’m just making fun with that one)  Here’s what I know: every book that I’ve ever loved has had a very strong voice.

To me, voice is that quality in writing that makes you feel like the narrator or point of view character is speaking directly to you.  When you write with voice, you’re not dictating your story to your reader; you’re engaging your reader in a very lopsided conversation.  They’re nodding sympathetically while you talk.

In my second novel, after about ten false starts, I found a voice.  I knew the story I wanted to tell in that book.  I knew the middle and most of the end.  But where to start?  I wrote beginning after beginning, because something just wasn’t working.  It was horribly frustrating.  I wrote in the third person and the first person.  I started with description and then dialog, and then action.  Finally, because I was so aggravated, I put it down for about a month.  When I picked it back up, I could hear the “voice” of my main character.  She was tough and sarcastic.  This book HAD to be written in the first person.

So what had I been doing wrong?

  • I wasn’t writing with any confidence.  I wasn’t sure who my main character was.  I didn’t know how she should sound.  That made my writing tentative and the voice just dried up.
  • My writing was very self-conscious because I was thinking too much about the rules of writing.  Even as I was trying to compose a paragraph, I would wonder if I was using too many adverbs or if the sentences were too long for such an action-y scene or if I was staying consistent with my themes in my figures of speech.  It’s a ridiculous way to write.  Nothing flows when you’re just thinking about the rules!  Besides, that’s what revisions are for.
  • I didn’t trust my readers.  I was micro-managing the audience with too much description and too much stage managing. I was inserting my ego into the story ahead of my character’s personality.

As soon as I loosened up, trusted myself, and let the writing flow, the “voice” was there.

It’s not like I’m in the clear, though.  For the life of me, I can’t get a good voice when I’m writing in the third person. It’s frustrating for me because there are some stories I think belong in a more distant point of view.  So, I keep hoping a narrator’s voice will find me.

As a final note, literary agent extraordinaire Nathan Bransford wrote a fantastic blog about the components of voice. You know how I love a good dissection!  It helped me look at my own style.  So if you need a great read about voice, check this out.

What about you?  How do you define voice? Do you feel like you’ve found your voice or are you still looking for it?  What do you do to help develop your voice?

I love that photograph!  It’s by ktylerconk and I found this art on flickr.