The finding of an author’s voice.
This post was first blogged in March 2013 with Saavy authors.
I thought you might find it interesting if you haven’t read it before.
When I first began to write romance, I had no voice. Many new writers don’t have one. Not only did I not have a voice, I was a poor enough example of a ‘wanna be’ writer to be unaware of what articles referred to when they spoke of the author’s voice. I am and always have been a very hungry reader, but abundant reading didn’t enlighten me on a conscious level about an author’s voice. This lack of understanding continued for several months as I struggled to learn the basics of writing. My earliest work accepted by a publisher only proved to me how much more I had to learn. I researched and read many ‘how to’ articles and blogs on the net, all the time endeavouring to improve my writing.
I wrote enough to wear the letters off my keyboard. I wrote in as many different ways as I could, small episodes, short stories, and tiny snippets, all exploring characters and their interactions. I worked on a full novel. My critique partners helped me find my way through the mysteries of point of view, of positioning of characters, the importance of good dialogue, and I wrote as often as I could. Finally, I had something I thought might be good enough to submit.
I received several rejections. Fortunately, in one of the later ones the editors didn’t simply send a stock, ‘not for us’ message. They took the time to tell me why the story wasn’t for them and told me I had developed a good author voice.
My emotions were torn, saddened the story wasn’t right or good enough, but thrilled a senior romance editor from a well known romance publisher had found something positive about my writing. This term ‘voice’ became more important to me. If I’d become good at anything in writing, I wanted to at least know what it was. More research followed but even with that and a growing inkling of what the term meant I still didn’t grasp the importance of the author’s voice.
I began a romantic novella, A Matter of Some Scandal. The image of the main character blazed so clear in my mind, a woman from the mid Georgian period. She prowled like a panther, minus her cosmetics, dishabille, her hair wild, and she roared in fury at the ex-lover from her youth. Their argument ended with her throwing her expensive new porcelain figurines at him as he sauntered out. This was an irresistible picture in my head. I had to use it, and from this beginning, the story rolled on.
I’m a pantster writer. I try to get as far as I can before I edit and research, fill in the gaps or add more details for depth. Therefore, with this story being a historical, a genre demanding of accuracy, I had to come to a halt at the arrest and imprisonment of my hero, and begin researching legal proceedings in the 1740’s.
This led me to the wonderful and freely available resource of the records of the proceedings of the Old Bailey in London. To support my story I read and searched for the detail I needed. I tried to make sense of the general legal system in the age, followed the speedily conducted court proceedings, and grimaced at the harshness of the sentences handed down to those charged and found guilty as accused. I have a passionate interest in history, and so I found all this very entertaining. I passed several days soaking up the workings of the Bailey. My researches led me to a wonderful discovery; a set of records made by one writer whose voice rang off the pages. He made me take note. I laughed at his wonderful description of two saucy wenches, felt his genuine sympathy for the poor thirteen-year-old wretch charged with the theft of a handkerchief, and his horror at the attack and murder of a young girl.
Suddenly, I understood the term voice, because here it was. A man long dead, a writer from the seventeen hundreds offering me his thoughts, his insights and communicating with me as though I could ask him to join me for a coffee. I read every entry he made in the reports of the criminal cases. He was a writer who sold his work as a pamphleteer or to one of the earliest newspapers in London, and he brought the court to colourful and vivid life.
After I had read his work, I went back to my story to continue it, and as I read through to ground myself in events, yes, there it was, my voice. I could hear my voice in the words on the page. Not my dialect littered usual speaking voice, but my author’s voice. Truly, I was astonished.
Of course, as I’m sure experienced authors will expect, after this initial glow of discovery I immediately lost my voice again. Why? I was trying too hard, but after a few days I got my voice back and it has remained with me since. I can’t dismiss the voice as a mental aberration caused by my response to the pamphleteer in the Old Bailey, because others have heard my voice too. So, I can honestly say, I found my author voice and I do understand the meaning of the term. Once I’d managed that the next step was to lose my voice and to do so at will and deliberately.
If you are scratching your head at this point, I’ll try to explain. I am a writer who finds deep point of view a very interesting tool. I have been trying to learn how to use it for some time. One of the many things that can block this type of point of view is the author’s voice. Therefore, for deep point of view to work and allow me to suck the reader into the character and their world, it is necessary for me the author to give up my precious voice I worked so hard to get. If I am writing in the mind of a Witch Queen, I need to be her, to use her terms, her inferences, think as her and walk in her shoes, and most of all I need to use her voice. If my story revolves around a nineteenth-century sailor, I must write as him, I must be him.
This understanding has taken me time and effort to learn and I’m only beginning to succeed in using it. The skill remains fragile enough to slip away from me at times as I experiment in my stories. However, if I’m lucky and if I work hard I may keep hold of the ability to let my voice go when I need to and offer my readers the raw voice of the character in the story. I was thrilled to think I achieved this in the first chapter of my story, Your Heart My Soul published by Liquid Silver Books.