Digging Deep to Find the Voice

Folks, quick brain exercise: Come up with a way to describe the color green to a person who’s been blind since birth.

No, really, try it. I’ll wait.

Ha ha! Gotcha, didn’t I? Probably not, though you get my point, some things are just impossible to describe. The elusive Voice falls in that camp.

Summing up what all the other Muses have put so perfectly: Voice is the way we tell stories or the way our characters speak. The sentence structure, the pacing, the word choice…shoot, it’s even the punctuation. But wait, there’s more: It’s the tone we’re attempting to establish. The metaphors we pick. There are a gazillion ways to get information across and Voice is the art of how we do it.

With that definition, you can see why Voice is nearly impossible to teach. However, it got me thinking about some specific things that dictate my Voice (from the novels I write to this very blog post). The following list is my mental tics that guide my craft.

I’m a cliché-a-phobe.
This isn’t a recognized medical condition, but it should be. For me, being described as cliché is akin to a strong kidney jab. I avoid them to an obsessive degree. And it does an interesting thing to my Voice: it makes me scrutinize every scene, the structure of each sentence, and pick apart my grammar. If there’s a whiff of cliché, I scrub until it smells fresh (at least, to me).

I’m an engineer.
The Muses can attest to the fact that I love logic and structure. I get far too excited about spreadsheets and lists (can you tell?). Surprisingly, I catch some flack for my organizational devotions (come on, Donna, you know the LA schedule spreadsheet rocked J). In my writing, this need demands that I carefully pick my tenses and Point of View. Currently, I write in a first person/present tense and it works for me because this combo has some very defined logical rules:
(1)   My narrator must experiences things as they happen: Basically, what Katy said: First, the narrator has to feel getting slapped, then he thinks about the slap, and finally, he reacts to it.
(2)   I have to BE the narrator. In the first person POV, I have to walk every step with my character and filter information as they do. For example, as a house explodes behind my sprinting narrator, he’ll notice the searing heat on his back. The smell of smoke. The roar of fire. But he probably won’t have time to make the fart joke that I, as the author, find hilarious.

I’m an engineer (part II):
Some of you know how glamorous the calculator trade can be, but for those of you who don’t: Most my day is spent writing…please, let me finish before you WOOT…spent writing engineering reports. And in these documents I’m required to be as dry as toasted saltines. Short and clear sentences. No emotion. Passive voice. Exact wording. So when I flip over to fiction, it’s Whooooeeee. My pace is breakneck. My words drip with action. Tension pings every page. (Okay, I attempt all those things).

I’m stuck in Middle School.
Respectable people have told me that I nail the 12-14 year old male narrator’s voice. While this compliment is very flattering, I’ve got a confession: I don’t sound like this due to a special talent or trick. Nope, it’s just what comes out when I write. In fact, I try from time to time to write for another group (YA is hot right now and adult fiction is soo much more respectable *wink*wink*), but I always sound 14. Something must’ve happened to me between 6th and 9th grade to cement this mentality. I wouldn’t know because I remember ~ 0.98% of those years and most the memories consist of eating pizza and swimming races. However, I’ve embraced my arrested development and am having fun working through my tween issues one chapter at a time.

So that was a peek into my mind (scary, I know…but it’s almost Halloween, after all). I’m not telling you all this so that you’ll get diagnosed as a cliché-a-phobe or take a Differential Equations class. Rather, to remind you to play to your strengths and be wary of your weaknesses for they also define your unique Voice. The more you understand them, the more powerful you’ll be.


Always illuminating. Always entertaining. Thanks, for the Friday read, Bret!

What a great post! Thanks for entertaining me:)

All of you did a great job tackling the elusive Voice. Thanks for the series, and the humor.

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