Tag Archives: voice

The Problem With Voice

12 Feb
Abigail Cash

What do you mean Voice isn't all about dialogue?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, digging through the Indie releases promoted on various blogs and websites that I visit. One of the nice things about the Internet and the way the Indie-writer community has evolved these days is that it gives us the ability to find out about so much that normally wouldn’t even be a blip on the radar. I’ve run across a couple of really fun reads that way.

On the other hand, I have also run across some things that frustrate me. Finished, published manuscripts that are rife with typos. A novel with a beautiful, tightly written beginning that devolves into something less than engaging at about chapter four. These are universal issues that every writer should be aware of, and something that writing partners and crit buddies are perfect for catching.

There’s something else that I’ve noticed though, and its made me take a good hard look at my own writing. Voice.

It’s that vague word that all English composition teachers like to toss around like it means something to a room full of 16 year old kids. Later on, we hear about it from college professors and literary agents. More often than not, the concept stays muddled, confused with tone and flow and a host of other technical issues. That’s a shame, because I think voice tops the charts as the number one thing that will pull me into a story, and its also the first thing that will make me set a promising story down.

A consistent voice is important, regardless of the point of view you’re writing from. Right now, I’m reading a mystery novel that has an interesting and well-thought out plot. I’m sticking it out because I’m truly interested in the plot, but I’ve had to read it in spurts because the author doesn’t have a good grasp on his voice. At times, he’s digging into the mind of the main character, a cop who’s just counting the days until retirement. Other times, the prose shifts into a poetic, breezy kind of narration, unconnected with anything and completely at odds with the previous passages. The juxtaposition makes me do a double-take, and gives me a jolt that yanks me out from whatever I was reading.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve read some wonderful books that have played with a variety of voices. To be an utter cliche, yes, I read The Help recently. Kathryn Stockett did a wonderful job of telling a story from three distinct voices, and not just through the use of dialect. I haven’t read it yet, but I understand that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer also uses multiple voices to great effect. That being said, there is a difference between using multiple voices and not having a defined voice at all.

The point is that choices in voice must be made deliberately. It can be tempting to wander off-voice, especially when the result is something that sounds really good. But if that lovely, poetic paragraph or two is smack dab in the middle of something with a completely different tone and voice, the result is less pleasing. One thing I really appreciate is when a beta reader highlights a passage and points out irregularities in voice.

How do you try to keep your voice consistent and defined? And how do you find your voice to begin with?