It’s time for another guest blog, this time by one of my Twitter author darlings, Em Shotwell, author of BLACKBIRD SUMMER, a southern set small town fantasy romp that just made my day. I’ve featured the book before here on the blog, so I won’t get into too much detail about it, but I will say this, Em is DEFINITELY one of my top picks for nailing voice in her books. Whether you’re reading the original novel, the short story, or (if you’re lucky like me and are getting a peek early LOL) the novella, you know it’s from the same series. The voice carries you through from one installment of the series to the next just wonderfully. With that in mind, who better to write me a guest post about voice?
What’s the deal with voice, anyway?
Like most writers, I have received my fair share of rejection letters. In the beginning they were short and sweet and of the form variety, but gradually, as my writing improved and requests were made, they became almost like short edit letters. The industry is subjective, and sometimes I would get contradictory advice, but I always carefully considered every critique, as if it were a tiny nugget of wisdom (which, you know, they kind of were).
For all of the things I did wrong with the early drafts of my first novel, Blackbird Summer, there was a common theme of praise: Voice. I am not claiming to be an expert—not by a long shot. When I first was told my story had an intriguing voice—I wasn’t even sure what the comment meant. In fact, I think a lot of new writers may find the concept of voice confusing. Is it dialogue? Nuance? Tone? Attitude? Style?
In a nutshell, yes.
When preparing to write this blog post, I did quite a bit of googling (as one does) to make sure that I had my facts straight. If you search for voice in writing, you will get page after page of credible writing websites doing their best to describe what exactly the term “voice” means. Some claim that it is synonymous with tone, others say it is the way in which an author uses techniques to show their personal attitude. The one thing every writer’s site agreed on was the fact that voice is that thing that makes a story distinctly yours.
Voice is the reason that there can be two books, on similar subjects, maybe with similar plots, but feel like completely different, original works of fiction. It is the way you structure your sentences, the way you use asides, how dense your paragraphs are, your word choice. All of these things contribute to your voice, and how you “sound” on the page.
Some writers say you must “find” your voice, while others argue that you can cultivate it.
I tend to be of the set that believes you can cultivate your voice. Maybe you have your true voice, the one that is you, but I believe you can change it. You can bend and twist and play around with different stylistic choices and create something interesting that you love.
Take a scene from your current WIP and completely change the voice. This doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out part of the plot. It can be something as simple as someone coming home from work. Play around and see if you can keep the action the same (you don’t want to change what happens in the scene, the same goal needs to be accomplished) but make it feel as if it were written by someone else, or like it should belong in a completely different book. Then read both scenes out loud.
Em Shotwell is a cancer survivor, foster care advocate, and white belt in Brazilian jujitsu. Sometimes she writes about oddballs and the weirdos who love them. Her debut novel, Blackbird Summer, is available now.
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