Writing tip: On voice

There are two types of voices in fiction writing: the author’s and the character’s. I’ve struggled with knowing how to separate the two, and at the same time, worried that I don’t have either, and particularly the first type. So much has been written about authorial voice, and how, for many agents and editors, it is the most important aspect about a work of fiction (see why I worry?).

I didn’t know if I should try to develop my writer’s voice. And if so, how I’m supposed to do it. Or is it supposed to come in its own time? It’s not like craft, which can be learned. Voice is inherent, a unique quality of the writer, something that is there or not there. How am I to know if I have it or not?

Compounding the difficulty is the realization that I’ve been a little fuzzy about what voice really is. It seems like this vague something in a novel, the elusive “it” factor. I can see the differences among the works of Shannon Hale, Madeleine L’Engle, and Kate Dicamillo. But what gives birth to those differences is hard to pinpoint.

Well, today, I had a lightbulb moment. Lynn Price over at the Behler Blog, wrote the post, “Seeing like a writer and gaining voice”.

And (cue heavenly music here), something clicked.

Here it is, at last! Voice – explained, defined, described, in a way that came home to me. The relevant excerpt:

I see so many manuscripts that lack artistic flavor and have no voice. I’m not suggesting that every sentence be filled with poetic narrative, but some is nice because of the creative picture it places in the reader’s mind. If it’s creative, it’s memorable. If it’s memorable, it has voice.

Artistic flavor. Poetic narrative. Creative picture.

Ah, I think I finally understand.

Voice is the creative expression that a writer sprinkles throughout her narrative. The story is told in a way that is unique to that writer, using combinations of words that both evoke delight and nail descriptions right on the head. The story doesn’t just unfold like a heavy-booted parade; it plays out like an exquisitely painted picture, scene after scene, because of the writer’s voice.

Voice is the poet in every writer finding his way in a work of prose. Voice has been described as “your originality and the courage to express it.” To be a fiction writer with voice is to be bold enough to let that inner poet free, while also being astute enough to know when to call him back when craft demands it.

I think, at last, that I get it. Thank you, Lynn.

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