Three Dirty Birds on Voice


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Chirping on about the last chapter of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. Today we’re hunting the elusive Voice of the Writer.

Ana: *tries to chirp but can’t* Has anyone seen my voice?

Zoe: Stop looking for it, and you will find it.

Kate: I brought a net. Who’s bringing sandwiches?

Zoe: Is that what we use for voice bait? Sandwiches? My voice would like a BLT.

Kate: My stomach just growled. *frowns at it*

Ana: Your stomach has more voice than me!

Kate: It’s certainly loud enough. This is one of the most difficult to understand chapters in the book, but I think it’s because voice is one of the more difficult traits of a writer to acquire and/or refine. It takes a lot of words, and there’s not a lot of coaching you can get for it.

Ana: It can make you really paranoid when you keep hearing ‘we’re looking for a strong/fresh/ whatever voice’ and you go ‘fine, how do I get that?’, but no one can really tell you.

Kate: That’s the worst of it. It’s one of those things that comes with time. You can’t rush it, though you can encourage it. So, to be honest, I don’t pay much attention, or worry about it. You can’t, or you’ll stress yourself into not being able to write.

Ana: I hardly think about it when I’m not reading a book that talks about it.

Zoe: Yes, I don’t worry about it either. (I kind of think of it as an accent: I don’t have an accent (to me!), and I don’t have a voice (to me!), but other people might hear it.)

Kate: My personal opinion about this is that voice comes when you’ve developed enough confidence in the other technical aspects of writing that you can relax a little. If you’re still struggling to get the grammar down, or beats, or plotting, or whatever, you’re not going to feel free enough for your voice to grow. (And that’s why I like my betas to pick on every technical aspect of every story. My voice has grown since I stopped having to worry about every little thing.)

Zoe: Yes, it comes when you can “relax and be yourself.”

Ana: *leans back in her chair and waits for her voice to come back* Any minute now.

Kate: Lol.

Ana: I do agree with what they said about the danger of sounding pretentious when you’re trying to imitate the great writers.

Zoe: You sound like you’re trying to be someone else at a party.

Kate: I think it’s an important part of the learning process, though. You don’t know what feels good to you until you’ve tried it out. (Has anyone else noticed the parallels between sex and finding your voice?)

Zoe: Not until you pointed it out. I agree that it’s part of the learning process—who of us hasn’t done it? I tried to write like Stephen King, Faulkner, Chuck Palahniuk, Annie Proulx. It’s fun. But impossible to keep up or do as well as the originals do it.

Ana: It used to happen unconsciously for me. When I read a lot of something that I really liked, my writing started to imitate that.

Kate: All part of the process. It was good to see the authors talking about how different books require different voices, and I think this carries through to different POV’s needing different voices.

(Ana: Especially when you have several first person narrators. Please.)

Kate: I hate having to go back to the beginning of a chapter to figure out who the POV character is. And I often skip past chapter titles if they aren’t actually titles, so I can be a couple of pages into a chapter and get confused about whose head I’m in.

Zoe: I skip them even if they are titles. (Sorry Kate! (Kate puts work into her chapter titles. I’m way more lazy.))

Ana: I put work into my chapter titles for my first two novels. Then I got lazy. (But now as I’m editing those books, it’s nice, because I can tell by the titles which chapter is which.)

Kate: *Cries* All my hard work…

Zoe: I’m sure your hard work wasn’t wasted on those who appreciate the little details. I’m more just “GIVE ME STORY.”

Kate: I don’t actually mind. The chapter titles are a bit of entertainment for myself, but they’re more an artifact of the writing program I use and my non-linear writing method. I title the chapters because it’s not unusual for me to write a couple, write the ending, put a few in the middle, etc. If I numbered them, I’d be changing the numbers all the time.

Ana: I once read a book where the scenes had titles. Which was odd. It led me to believe the writer had originally put snippets of her writing online somewhere and then grew so fond of her titles for these installments that she couldn’t leave them out of the finished book. (And I think they were supposed to be funny, but it just seemed so forced that it was awkward.)

Kate: Interesting. My titles generally talk about the theme of the chapter, and related chapters will have related titles.

Zoe: I need a nap now after just thinking about coming up with clever names for all my scenes. (I do have to call them something in Scrivener, but I generally go with “parking lot” or “the night after.” Not things I’d put in a book.)

Kate: I don’t title scenes. Can’t even imagine that. *head asplodes*

Ana: My scene titles in Scrivener include such poignant names as ‘dramas’. Also ‘blah1’, ‘blah2’,  and ‘smut.’

Zoe: Often I don’t title scenes, but in my current WIP each chapter is a day, and there are various POVs happening within each day, and I need to keep straight (in my own head) what’s going on when. (The “blah” scenes sound promising, Ana.)

Kate: Mmmm, can’t wait to read those. 🙂 To be honest, I thought this last chapter was kind of blah. It was mostly excerpts from novels and, toward the end, I was skimming, because there’s not a lot that can be taught about voice. You kind of have to get out of your own way before it will come calling.

Zoe: The authors might have been better off just saying that and calling it a day. So, what’s our overall opinion of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers?

Ana: I think overall it has some solid advice especially on the basics. I continue to recommend it. Maybe I’m biased because it was my first.

Kate: I think it’s one of the first books you should pick up after your first draft is done. It’s got great information, and I had this feeling all the way through it like I wasn’t just a reader, but almost like I was a client. You could feel how much they wanted you to succeed throughout the book. Even this last chapter, that kind of missed the mark, was a serious attempt on their part to tackle a very difficult, and very important, element of good writing.

Zoe: I thought it was a solid book, and I’d recommend it for authors who’ve done a first draft and want to know how to make the writing better—but first I’d recommend our previous read, Story Trumps Structure, so that they can work on improving the story itself before moving to the finer details. I wasn’t as excited about this book as I was Story Trumps, but I suspect that my excitement will be back next week when we jump into Chuck Wendig’s The Kick-Ass Writer.

Kate: I would compare Story Trumps Structure to a developmental edit, and Self-Editing to a copy edit or line edit.

Ana: Agreed.

Zoe: (And I would compare Chuck Wendig to a kick in the pants. If you happen to be wearing any.)

Kate: Still, I’m going to probably rate this a bit higher than STS, simply because they came at it with a very even-handed approach, they were very clear, and it did exactly what they said it would, which I couldn’t always say about STS. Maybe 4.5 stars?

Ana: Is it just me or does STS kind of sound like an STD?

Kate: Dirty Bird!

Ana: Look, my voice is back!

So, tune in next week, when Chuck Wendig gives us all a kick in the pants, assuming we bother to put any on in the first place.

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