What is “IT”?

(Flickr photo by Chapendra)

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.


Announcements &c:

Coming Friday! Suzanne Hartmann, author of the NASCAR thriller, Peril, is going to be a guest here at Peppermint Place! I hope everyone welcomes her as she promotes her debut novel!

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.)




About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
This entry was posted in Writing, Writing Tips and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to What is “IT”?

  1. Voice is so elusive to do well and even harder to explain. But critical to turn a series of plot points into a story worth remembering. You’ve given us a good explanation, Linda. Thank you.


  2. Brad says:

    The craft is critically important. If you want to make it out of tee-ball and into the Little Leagues, you have to know how to play the game. At a certain point, though, people care about your performance on the field. Nobody’s gonna pay to watch Little League.


  3. I do believe you’re right. As I was reading through the beginning of the post, before I got to your answer, I was trying to nail down my “It” to one thing and kept coming back to this intangible “something.” But you’re right: voice carries everything. Good characters, good dialogue – all of that rests on the foundation of a polished and engaging voice.


    • Linda Yezak says:

      I think that’s true. A writer’s voice comes through her characters, the dialogue, even her word choices. And I believe that voice comes from personality. Whenever an author pours her personality onti the page, she’s illustrating her voice.


  4. This makes so much sense. Every book I have placed on my must have/must keep to re-read list had a voice unique to that author. Many of the classics, such as To Kill A Mockingbird, at least I think it is a classic, has a voice that draws you ever deeper into the story and glues you there over and over again. As always, such a great post, Linda!


  5. Lynn Mosher says:

    Such a great post, Linda! And you’re so right…voice says it all!


Talk to me--I love comments!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.