In my post Monday, I mentioned a book that didn’t have what it takes to draw me into the story. Something was missing. Something wasn’t quite right.
So, what is “it”? What is that one thing found in the opening line, page, or scene, which makes a reader want to curl up with a pet, a cup of cocoa, and the one book that engaged her senses well enough to buy it?
My bet is, if you ask five different authors this question, you’ll get five different answers. You’ll get another set of answers if you ask five readers the same question. The thought to do just this–ask–occurred to me at 3:30 this morning (groan), so it’ll be a while before I discover if I won my bet. I’ll give the results of my informal survey sometime next week when all the responses are accumulated, but let me give you my take now, my for-what-it’s-worth opinion: “IT” is your authorial voice.
Now, I’m certain you’re rolling your eyes and screaming at the screen: “Linda, could you have chosen anything more intangible?!”
Well, yell all you want, that’s my answer and I’m sticking to it. And let me give you another shocker: Voice overrides “good” writing.
Yes, you read that right. I, the editor who harps on editing (and still insists on good editing), admit that good writing isn’t everything. An author’s voice is the reason why one book will grab me and make me put up with all the errors, and another won’t. Book Four, mentioned in Monday’s post, was reasonably well written, but it had a bland voice.
Voice isn’t something you get, it’s something you have, though often it’s stifled by a too-cautious observation of all the writing and crafting rules. So, at the risk of sounding contradictory to everything I’ve preached on this blog, ignore the rules for a while and find your voice.
How do you find it? Write. But don’t expect what you’ve written to be publishable. Keep it if you must or toss it as you ought, but don’t expect it to see a broad audience.
Try this: find a website or e-mag that has writing prompts and pick one, then write from your personality, not your knowledge of writing, your attention to crafting, or your memory of your grade-school grammar teacher. Write from the core of who you are. The prompt you pick will tell you a lot about who you are. Did you pick something that will make people laugh? Make them think? Emphasize the serious, mysterious, ludicrous? Why did you choose what you chose?
Write. Then write another. And another. Write until you’re sick of it and shout, “Hang it all–I’m gonna do it this way!” When you reach this point, you’ll be at the raw spot inside that’s the core of you. You’ll be at the spot that isn’t trying to please or impress anyone, that isn’t prim and proper and correct as a British butler. Or, perhaps your outward personality is snarky, but deep inside, you’re sensitive and insecure, and that’s what comes out. Search your core. What do you find?
Once you discover your voice, play with it. Choose a prompt that is totally opposite of your initial choice. Work through the range of emotions. Write prose. Write action scenes. What are you finding?
After you’ve exhausted yourself with all these exercises, go back and pick one of your prompt writings to polish. Follow the rules of crafting and grammar, but maintain your voice. Don’t stiffen up just because you have to return to the conventional.
I’m not backing down from my belief: Excellence in writing includes a polished combination of all the components of the craft. It includes effective characterization, setting description, word choice, theme, plot, etc. It includes proper spelling and sentence structure and punctuation. But it’s amazing what a reader will forgive if she likes the voice. And it’s the voice, more than any cleverness or perfection, that the reader notices first–page one, line one–even if she doesn’t realize it.
Monday: I’m going to be a guest on Jo-Anne Vandermuelen’s blog-talk radio show, “Authors Articulating.” Tune in at 5:30 CST (3:30 Pacific) to catch my Texas accent as I discuss public speaking, my 2011 release, Give the Lady a Ride, and my hopes for The Cat Lady’s Secret, which is now on the publication trail. I’m nervous about this, so y’all tune in and offer some support okay?
Starting Tuesday, 12/13, and extending to Thursday, 12/15: I’m participating in Karen Blaney’s launch of her fourth title, Nickels. Through the promotional efforts of WoMen’s Literary Cafe, I and nine other authors are offering the Kindle version of our books at the special low price of 99c. (Remember, if you want an autographed Kindle version of Give the Lady a Ride, be sure to click on the “I can Kindlegraph your books!” button in the sidebar.)