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Monday, May 28, 2007

Finding Your Voice

An editor once told me that she had plenty of good manuscripts pass through her office. What she was looking for, though, was a great manuscript. One that stood out from the dozens of proposals she received every week.

What makes your writing stand out from every other “good” manuscript? It’s a question we each have to ask ourselves as we tread down this writer’s path. I read a lot of chapters from aspiring authors and there is one main thing I’ve noticed. There are lots of good writers, but in the end, they often all sound the same. Generic stories with average characters that I find a hard time caring about. Ouch! I know it hurts to think that an editor (or reader) might not care about the epic novel you’ve poured your heart into. (Trust me, I have manuscripts I love, but will never see the light of day for this very reason.)

So let’s get real.

In order for an editor to take a second look at your story, you have to stand out. Average isn’t good enough. A good story isn’t good enough.

So what does this mean? First off all there is hope. Many of these authors simply haven’t found their voice. That unique style that pulls them out of the pack and makes the reader want more of your heart-stopping, gut-wrenching story.

But how do we find our “voice” as a writer?

In the end, it all boils down to hard work, but here are a few suggestions I’ve come up with to help make your writing catch the eye of an editor.

1. Invest yourself in your writing. Plainly stated, writing takes both time and energy. Lots of energy. Consistency and practice will pay off. Write, write, and write some more.

Here are some questions to ask yourself. Have you finished a manuscript? Joined a critique group? Gone to a conference? Joined a writer’s group? Entered a contest for feedback? If not, then these are great places to start.

2. Read. Reading helps you to see what works in other authors’ writings. What makes their story stand out. What draws you to the characters.

3. Write what feels comfortable. In my own writing, I’ve learned to go with my gut. I know deep inside what doesn’t work even if it’s like ripping off my arm to delete a huge chunk of my story. Some people find their voice in first person. Others in third person. Some in suspense, some in historicals. If you haven’t yet discovered what works for you, try out something different until you find what feels right.

4. Match the tone of what you are writing to the genre. This is a suspense blog, so I’ll focus on that. What is the feel of your story? A bit of comedy relief always works, but a suspense novel can’t read like a long descriptive historical. Short sentences move the action and add to the suspense.

Any other ideas for finding your voice? Leave a comment and let us hear from you.

Coming next. . .Taking things a step further with three-dimensional characters.


Blogger Robin Caroll said...

For me, finding part of your voice is to write what you're most passionate about. If YOU, the author aren't passionate, chances are pretty good that a reader and an editor aren't going to be passionate about it either.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Lisa Harris said...

Excellent comment, Robin. I recently set aside a proposal because I wasn't passionate about it. While the story was solid, without the passion I believed an editor (and in turn a reader) would feel the same lack of excitement.

The contrast with a new proposal I'm working on in striking. I want to write this book and am excited about it. Passion will come out in our writing voice, so write what you're passionate about!


9:29 AM  
Blogger Gina said...

What's confusing for me is I think I've found my voice or at least A voice and then get what I think is my voice critiqued out by well meaning crit partners.

How can we follow the rules of writing and have a voice that stands out from the rest?

11:18 PM  
Blogger Jefferson Scott said...

Good question, Gina. There's no perfect answer for you.

My suspicion is that one of two things is happening. Either your crit group just needs to allow you to be different from how you've written before (sometimes the people who know us best are least willing to let us change), or your voice isn't quite working yet.

It may be a little of both.

Consider asking a new crit partner to look over some of your writing that is full of your voice. Sometimes a person who sees it fully formed and who hasn't seen your previous stuff will be able to accept it, where those who have seen you BEFORE the voice will not be able to.

If you voice is bold and impossible to miss (which is what most good voices are) there may be even more resistance to it. But not from people seeing it for the first time. To them it will just be how you write, and they'll either love it or not (which also happens to strong voices sometimes).


7:40 AM  

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