On Voice

The last post on Wonkomance was like the smartest thing written about writing, so if you’re looking for something insightful and mind-bending, CLICK HERE.

For those of you still with me, I’ve been thinking about voice lately. No, scratch that. I’ve been thinking about voice ALL THE TIME EVER. Because that’s the most important thing to me. Sometimes it seems like the only thing almost not quite. Which is tough because many smart and talented people say the exact same thing about “story”, this vague and nebulous thing that is more than plot but less than the whole, shunting voice to the side along with window curtains and ambient lighting.

I just can’t. Honestly. It’s like telling me the sky is pink when I’m staring up at the cool, peaceful blue.

So anyway. I’ve got Pandora on in my car, and this song comes on by Akon. I start thinking about the lyrics. Overanalyzing, as I do. And when it says nobody wants to see them together, I was like hey, that’s applicable, because my book that came out, it has that setup.

I’m listening and I’m listening and the hero is fighting for their right to love, yeah, and then I was like hold up. Because THEN people started telling his fictional heroine lies to get between them. And her suspicion was aggravated by the hero’s own dissembling due to his insecurities about his past. BUT THEN his love conquered that fear and etc, etc. Which is exactly how it goes in my book AKON HOW DID YOU KNOW?

Because it’s all been done before. It has. We are all just mashing and grinding this archetypal pulp and coming up with a glass of story juice. And we want it to be fresh! We want it to be new, because that’s the point of this writing gig. To tell the story from our own perspective and in our own voice.

Which leads me to…

A few days ago I was compulsively clicking links scrolling through my twitter feed. I came upon a blog where writers submitted their work and then some sort of industry professional (editor, agent, etc) would critique it. Neat.

This time the industry professional was an author. But when I read the critiques, my heart sank. The critiquer had a comment for almost every sentence. I felt the critiquer author was trying to rewrite it in her voice instead of the (actual) author’s. In fact, the best line, the moment of genius in a brief excerpt was cut entirely. Man, I hope that author doesn’t listen to that. But she might because the status of the critiquer and the site is big tall ledge, and our self doubt is always handy to give us a push.

It can be very hard to hold that line sometimes, but we have to, we have to, because voice is the life of the story. I mean, looking at the authors on this sidebar, the ones I love to read, voice is so much a part of their writing. WRITING is so much a part of their writing, if you know what I mean. It’s not just the story; it’s how the story is told.

Speaking specifically to wonkomance, I wonder how much of the wonkiness is inherent in the voice. You might think not, because wonkiness is in the story, right? Story story story, they drill into my head. Renaissance fair actor heroes and plumber heroines and reverse Cinderella stories. That’s all story, plot, things that happen and not the way it was said.

But the thing is, the same synopsis in the hands of different authors could be wildly different books. It’s the things we choose to mention or ignore. In the words we use and the metaphors we choose. I really think voice IS the “story”. They are inseparable. You can’t eschew the glittering surface of the ocean and demand the depths; one is a flipside of the other.

At least I think so. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it :)

“It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.” Jack Kerouac

About Amber Lin

Amber Lin writes sexy romance about messed up people, because everyone deserves a happy ending. Find her books or sign up for the newsletter at her website authoramberlin.com.
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6 Responses to On Voice

  1. I will love this forever.

    I think wonkiness is in the characters. And you can’t convey character to the reader, can’t bring those fictional constructs to life as distinct individuals in the reader’s mind, without voice.

    I even think the story can be incidental, because again when it comes to wonk that boils down to character – not the story, but the backstory. What made that hero be the guy who became a Renaissance fair actor instead of getting an MBA like his friends? Therein lies the wonk, not in the fact that he’s currently doing this unusual thing. And to get that wonked frame of reference across and still have him ring true as a hero…that’s voice’s job. Story and craft alone can’t explain why the reader likes him.

  2. Oh, for dumb, I must’ve dropped a tag somewhere. It wiped my quote. The thing I will love forever is: “We are all just mashing and grinding this archetypal pulp and coming up with a glass of story juice.”

    That. Yes.

  3. Ruthie says:

    “It can be very hard to hold that line sometimes, but we have to, we have to, because voice is the life of the story.”

    Yes. Yes yes yes.

    And I think the more we believe in voice, the more we understand that story can be smaller than we thought. That story doesn’t HAVE to be stalker + crushing debt + teenage pregnancy + hero who has sworn never to love again — that it can be much smaller, if the voice is there, and still be astounding.

  4. Amber Lin says:

    @Delphine YES! You said it better. The motivation behind those choices is the interesting part. I think that’s also why I can name some mainstream books with wonky aspects and don’t really think of them in that terms.

    @Ruthie Well sure but I like all those things! LOL. No but you’re right, sometimes the most genuine, most impactful change occurs in the quiet.

  5. Jessi Gage says:

    Voice is something I know I have, but I can identify characteristics of other people’s voices a lot better than I can identify characteristics of mine. Describing my own voice is like popping a zit without a mirror, I’m never sure I’ve really got it. Anyhoo… nice reflection, Amber.

    All of you wonky chicks have wonderful, unique voices, and you’re not bad at telling stories either. Carry on with what you do, and I will carry on auto buying you on Amazon. *Hugs*

  6. Mary Ann Rivers says:

    “I really think voice IS the ‘story.'”

    So much gold here, what everyone else has already mentioned, and this idea, too. Voice is what allows us to hear the story at all–without it, we may *see* the story, follow it, but we’ll never hear it. Which means–we won’t feel it either.

    I think that its power is obvious in how difficult it is for readers and editors and reviewers and writers to articulate. Strongly voiced stories get passed around, dog-eared and tattered, from reader to reader; editors/agents post calls for a fresh voice; writers get frustrated with their editors for removing voice. It’s some composition of innumerable elements that holds the real authority of the story, but even talented critical reviewers have difficulty parsing what makes it. At best, we ascribe qualities to it–“honest,” “lyrical,” “breathless.”

    I find that the sense of my voice can be the most difficult thread to keep ahold of when I’m writing, particularly when the writing is hard, for whatever reason. I know when it’s not coming through, and I know when it’s flowing. I know when I’ve hit on some new variation of it. It reminds me of when I was playing music competitively and professionally–my “sound” could be as elusive and as rewarding.

    This is a beautiful post. I think, most of all, voice is what keeps me reading and writing both. When it’s strong. Voice shoulders a tremendous weight of all other considerations of a story, I think. It’s the reader’s very closest companion.