October 8, 2018

How Your Voice is Like a Necklace...or a D.J.

Reprint of a blog post from February 2010 (before I sold my first manuscript!)

At dinner last night my husband and I were tucked into a romantic little table for two (okay, romantic is stretching it, but a girl needs an imagination in this era of open, well-lit restaurants).  We were whispering, and I was blushing and giggling (yes, more imagining) when suddenly the person in the booth behind me drew my attention.  I turned and poked my head over the top of the booth and sure enough it was a local disc jockey that I listen to most mornings (one of my favorites, btw).  I recognized her voice.

Authors are always told to find their voice.  But is it possible to develop a writing voice so strong that someone would recognize it on the opposite side of a tall booth?  To develop a recognizable voice, an author employs a unique use of words, phrases, and writing techniques that places an author's "stamp" on their work. It is recognizable to the reader, even if they don't know who the author is.  It ebbs and flows throughout the author’s work, not sustaining the entire way.  It works to pull a reader through the story.

Tamora Pierce has what I feel is a distinct voice.  It is rough, real and relatable. Maggie Stievfater’s voice is lyrical and musical and flowing.  Each of their main characters have their own unique voice that carries through the book but the telling of the stories are identifiable by the author’s voice.  

Let’s liken the creating of a story with making a necklace. First the author has to create the plot.  This is the strand of the necklace.  Will the author choose a thick cord of leather as the base?  Perhaps a delicate filament of gold or a strong rope of silver will act as the constant line running through the story.  Will it be a short choker, or will it be so long you can double it if you choose? Then the author makes an intentional choice in words, whether they be pearls or gems, beads or stones, they will set the tone of the storytelling. Then our author decides whether to crowd the strand or space the decorations apart.  Will there be a big emotional piece of bling hanging in the middle or several smaller, sparkles interspersed throughout? Finally, what kind of clasp does the author choose to pull the whole thing together?  Will it simply tie into a knot or will the clasp be complicated and have a safety chain in case it breaks?  The author does this again and again. Some authors create drippy, jeweled chains and others create tribal wear.  Each new piece is unique but there is usually a common look or feel to the jewelry that is similar and recognizable.

I don’t know that I’ve found my voice yet, but I have ruled out what isn’t my voice.  As much as I’d love to sound like Maggie, I don’t have it.  Nor am I brave enough to sound like Ellen Hopkins.  

My D.J. friend said that auditory identification has backfired on her before when she was yelling at her kids in a store and someone recognized her voice.  I wonder, can an author’s voice backfire on her?

Go forth and seek your own unique voice but avoid the backfires.