I must thank Diana Pharaoh Francis for her invaluable topic suggestion on Twitter. You should all be following her because she’s a gifted writer and an interesting person. At any rate, I had this blog post ready to go about doing the work and not letting yourself make excuses about the muse, meeting your deadlines, and such as that. Then I went to the blog and saw Barbara Samuel had given some fabulous suggestions on how to get the work done. I was like, hm, that’s far more helpful than simply telling writers: do your work and don’t complain about it. Which now that I think on it, I’m not sure how I meant to turn that into a proper blog post. So I needed a new idea and Ms. Francis stepped up with a fabulous suggestion about voice. And here we are!
This is something many writers struggle with when they’re starting out. I think it’s natural to emulate our favorite authors along the way to finding our own unique style. I certainly did my share of imitative writing, before figuring out what worked for me. I remember admiring sentence structure, pacing, dialogue rhythms. I’m sure I have a number of old historical romance manuscripts where you can see the influence of Lisa Kleypas and Laura Kinsale.
First, I’m going to talk about what I discovered about myself, and then I’ll offer some suggestions that may help y’all out. Here it is: the shocking truth. I’m a chameleon. I don’t have a personal voice that shines through all my work, at least so far as I can tell. This gave me a heck of a hard time along the road because I couldn’t figure out what I was meant to be writing. Generally, voice gives you some clue what genre suits you.
Me? Not so much. That’s pretty depressing, right? Not once I worked out what sort of writer I am. See, I’m what my editor calls “amazingly versatile”. I can write dang near anything. The only genres I haven’t tackled (to date) are horror and mystery. I rather doubt I could do literary fiction, but I’m talking genre stuff. I’m probably the last author you’d think about in relation to high-brow stuff, and there’s a good reason for it. That kind of work lies well outside my purview, and I’m fine with that. Like Gypsy Rose Lee, I simply want to entertain you.
Now I bet you’re wondering, well, how can this possibly work? Simple. The voice I write in belongs to my protagonist, and all writing-style choices flow from that person. For example, Jax is terse, almost staccato with surprising bursts of poetry. That means the sentences are shorter, and so are the chapters. Additionally, Jax doesn’t think her adventure is over; therefore, I write her books in present tense. She’s not narrating from a place of safety, now that the dust has settled. She’s dictating as everything happens. She’s also an impulsive, act-first and think-later sort of heroine, so the writing-style reflects that.
In contrast, Corine is more cautious. She notices the fine details, so there’s more description in her books. She’s more tactile, more sensual in some regards–not that everything comes back to sex. I mean, more as relates to the world of the senses. Corine would notice how the air smelled, how it felt on her skin, the way her skirt feels, and whether a man’s jaw was rough or smooth. These niceties might well escape Jax, who’s thinking about her next rush.
My voice differs vastly between these two series. I’ve received emails from readers who are amazed that I’ve written both when they seem so different. Well, yes. But it’s because I’m writing in the POV of that character–and it’s deep POV–so I have to relay the things that protagonist would notice.
This holds true for every genre I write. I can’t convey information that the character wouldn’t know… or notice in any scene, even if it would be more convenient. But that kind of shortcut leads to lazy plotting and inconsistent characterization.
My romances are a bit different than my urban fantasy or my science fiction because they’re written in third person, not first. Unlike many romances, however, I do more POVs than just hero and heroine. In the romantic suspense I have coming out in November, SKIN GAME, I have four POV: hero, heroine, villain and man of mystery (who has his own book, SKIN TIGHT, coming out in June 2010). There are other authors who do this wider-scope romance as well; Larissa Ione springs to mind off the top of my head–and I highly recommend her work. I think it’s more common in paranormals and romantic suspense, so that works out well. I like big, sprawling books, which would seem to make me a natural for epic fantasy, but they generally don’t contain all the wild sex that I’m desirous of including. Which brings me back to romance.
That said, my romances, despite containing four points of view, still adhere to the credo that I must be consistent and let each character dictate voice. I consider word choices, dialogue and sentence structure as if each item is a building block that constructs a picture of the protagonist in whose POV I am writing. I must also confess: I have a penchant for patterns and symmetry that probably affects the overall design of my books.
Deep POV is a fairly modern idea; I remember reading books in the 90s where POV was more loosey-goosey, and wandered from limited third to omniscient and back again. Heck, I was doing that too (in the 90s) before I figured out that deep POV contained the key to discovering my voice. This realization–in addition to figuring out that I do dark and gritty best–gave me what I needed to make a go of this writing business.
To help y’all identify what camp you fall into, you can ask yourselves some simple questions. What kinds of books do I love reading most? (Because I think our reading tastes can give us some indication of our tendencies.) Dark or light? Funny or action-packed? If I could write any kind of book, what would it be? You might also do some test runs. Even if you’re not a pantser, this can be a helpful exercise. Clear your mind and start writing. Don’t think about it. Just write two full pages without having plot or character in your mind. See who comes to light. What style have you written in? Whether you start in first or third and the type of character you come up with from your unconscious may offer some super clues regarding your natural voice.
I hope you’ve found this post somewhat helpful. Feel free to share the story of how you worked out what you should be writing. I’ll be back later to answer any questions you may have.