Wednesday, 4 January 2012

V is for Voice

A lot of new writers worry about their 'voice'.  Understandable, given that debut novels are often heralded with comments like 'a stunning new voice' and agents write rejection letters with feedback such as 'didn't like the voice' or 'didn't believe the voice'.  I think I was lucky in that I didn't register the term until after I was published, because I'd have been fretting about my voice (or lack of it) and would have become very self-conscious.  

Voice is simply the way you write.  It's about your choice of vocabulary, your word order, your writing style, your subject matter.  It's as individual as your speaking voice and comes as naturally.  You can tweak it, in the same way you can tweak an accent, and you can develop it through reading and writing, but essentially it is what it is.  Your voice is you, and there's not a great deal you can do about it.  

But sometimes your voice doesn't match your chosen form.  When I started I wrote literary short stories.  I had some success with them, but the natural home for my voice is contemporary women's fiction and when I started writing in that style - by accident! - it just clicked.  That's one of the good things about writing exercises; they force writers to go outside their usual genres. Sometimes that suits the author's voice better.  

Writers with very distinctive voices have to be doubly persistent.  They can struggle to find a form that both shows off their style AND fits into a publishing category.  I'm afraid that publishing is a cautious business and they like work that can be neatly slotted into marketing boxes.  Work that sits outside the usual categories struggles to find a home.  Kate Atkinson and Terry Pratchett have such distinctive voices that they have developed genres all of their own, and there are many other similar examples. 

Sometimes authors find their work being published in areas they didn't expect - last year I met a Costa winning author who hadn't expected to be marketed as YA, she just wrote a book.  I've heard other authors who thought they'd written one thing, but were marketed as another eg Louise Welsh and The Cutting Room.  Jill Mansell once told me that she'd tried writing for Mills and Boon, and kept on being turned down because she had too much humour.  She finally changed to chick lit and rom-coms and became one of the top selling UK authors.  

So, don't worry about your voice - it's there regardless - but search for the form that suits it best.  It may not be what you think it is.  


Diane Fordham said...

Enjoyed your post, thank you. I can so relate to the first paragraph. I didn't register either until afterwards, lol. There is so much to the process of writing, and these days we can read all about it on the internet -must be a real head-swimmer (I made that word up) for the emerging writer. :-)

NikkiF said...

Perhaps this is where I'm going wrong... Certainly, some styles of writing flow more readily for me than others. Time to take the hint?!

Shauna said...

A productive and happy New Year to everyone.
I can also relate to what you say in this post. I've tried to 'push' my writing into a more literary style, and had some short stories published, but the novels have resisted my efforts.
Finally I've got the message, and accepted my voice is probably not Booker Prize material, though we can still dream :)

womagwriter said...

Great post, and one I can relate to, having tried several forms before finding something that worked for me.

Just as athletes can't expect to succeed at all the events and need to specialise as sprinters, mid-distance, long-distance, long-jump, high-jump, javelin or whatever, same goes for writers. Find what you're good at and what you enjoy, and do lots of it!

Though to add to the analogy - cross-training can be a good thing too, on occasion!

Sarah Duncan said...

It's interesting, this voice/form match - love the sporting analogy! I think there are enough examples of writers working in one form, then changing and having a great success in another form, to certainly make it worth querying your chosen form.