Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It isn't that you don't have a voice. I just don't like it.

A writer’s voice is that part of his writing that makes him unique. Read Mark Twain and you know it’s him. Read Dickens and you know its him. Read Poe and you know its him. Voice is a lot like a person’s accent. We may think we don’t have an accent, but we all do. We have all learned to say words a certain way and to move our mouths a certain way. It is unique for each of us. A writer may spend time trying to “find his voice.” You don’t have to “find your voice.” If you are writing from who you are, then your voice is already there on the page. If you are cynical, that will show. If you are light hearted, that will show. If you are meticulous in word choice, that will show.

So what happens when you get a rejection letter and the agent says, “you need to work on your voice?” The agent isn’t saying that you don’t have a voice. We all have a voice. What the agent is saying is that he doesn’t like your voice. That’s a little like the American Idol competition. A few years ago, there was a woman on the show that the judges all liked, Fantasia Barrino. If you’ve heard her sing, you know that she has a very unique voice. Once you’ve heard her voice, you could pick out one of her recordings by hearing just a few words. As unique as her voice is, you won’t find me paying money to purchase her recording. Why? Because I don’t like her voice. It grates on my nerves.

I find a similar situation with some authors. The story may be well written and the voice unique, but I don’t like the voice. There is an author I know of who spends a lot of time talking about bodily fluids. Her voice is unique, but I don’t care for it. Some people do. Some people think it’s funny. That’s fine for them, but I don’t.

But I do think we have some ability to change our voice. Our voice is a product of the choices we make, which are a product of what we believe is important or funny. A public speaker might think it funny to make fun of his wife, but someone might have a good talk with him some day and convince him otherwise. His “voice” will change because his jokes won’t be at the expense of his wife. When our attitude changes, our voice changes in our writing. So we may need an attitude adjustment.

Sometimes, what we need is to choose a subject that fits our voice. You voice might be fine for juvenile fiction, but it may not work for a crime novel. The television show Pushing Daisies has a voice that is similar to the voice in A Series of Unfortunate Events. It works for A Series of Unfortunate Events, but it is irritating for Pushing Daisies. So when facing the impossible task of convincing an agent to like your voice, maybe what you really need to do is pick a different story.