Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

No Weak Voices!

Just read M. Gray's review of Fallen on her blog. She didn't like the voice, and that got me so riled up about the issue of voice that I just had to write a post. I couldn't even wait for my last post to get to 23 lol, I have to write it NOW.

We've heard it a hundred times: Voice is of utmost importance in good writing. One of the key elements the agent or editor will look for in a submission is voice. It must be strong, clear, vibrant and true. Writers may labor over the query letter, writing long involved plot summaries, and miss what really helps to sell themselves-- voice. If your voice comes through in a query, you're way ahead of the game. Then if the narrative voice is strong and clear in the first few paragraphs of the submission, good chance the editor will keep reading.

We all recognize voice when we see it, hear it, whatever. There are certain blogs I never miss because I love the voice. There are authors I want to read again and again because I love their voices. Sophie Kinsella is one. Agatha Christie. Judy Sheehan. Stephen King in Misery-- loved the voice in that one. Voice is often easier to identify than to create in our own work, yet it's what must be mastered for one's writing to go anywhere.

Nothing frustrates me more in my reading than a weak voice. Weak voice = weak writing. Weak writing = huge disappointment to Moi. Not to mention the big question-- How did this person even get a contract in the first place?

Oh, well, nothing we can do about that. Better to work on our own skills than worry about how so-and-so got the big advance, right? So. How to make our voice stronger? There's really only one way-- write, write, rewrite and write some more. Okay, there's two ways-- read, read and read some more. And read lots of genres, not just your own, not just your favorite. Find new authors, find new voices. And keep on writing until your own distinct voice is strong and clear.


  1. OH I feel so special, Karen! I can rile you up!!! lol!

    I think voice is the most important element for me when I read a book. I am SO affected by it. My favorite voice lately is Carrie Ryan's in The Forest of Hands and Teeth. The way she strung her sentences together--it was intoxicating for me. I LOVE the way she writes. And I haven't forgotten how you love Sophie Kinsella's voice. I really really want to read one of her books.

    Do you think this is why I love first person POV so much? Do you think a voice can shine easiest in this voice? Instruct me, Karen!!!

  2. I think one of the ways to make your voice stonger, or come to voice at all, is to be honest and respectful of yourself, your characters, your readers when you write. If you write from the heart, that's you.

    Yes, read a lot and many different authors, but their voice isn't your voice. Your voice is unique.

    And yes, I think that's why first person really does give voice a showcase. MHO, only. :)

  3. Great post! I totally agree with you. I am not sure if I have found my voice but it is coming:)

  4. I'm amazed at how the voice comes out on certain blogs that I read. I think it is something very special. I have just bought The Forest of Hands and Teeth and really looking forward to reading it. :o)

  5. All good advice, but mostly the "write, write, rewrite, and write some more." It seems as though voice should come naturally, just magically appear the first time we put our fingers on the keyboard (or pen to paper). Not true. We have to search for it.

  6. Hi

    Finding your own unique voice and using that to weave a powerful story together is definitely a skill that comes naturally and also with a lot of learning and discipline and focus!


    Take care

  7. I think voice is like love - the harder you try the more it eludes - but when you're not looking and start to be true to yourself and your writing along it comes :-)

  8. Great comments here, thanks everyone! Here's what poet & author Jay Parini had to say about voice:

    "Again, there are no rules here. You learn by trial and error. You must write badly at first, then revise, drawing closer and closer to the unique voice that is already latent but somehow obscured."

    As for whether it's easier in 1st person POV, Mary, don't you think it depends on the writer and even the reader? I personally find a stronger voice in 3rd person subjective, both in my reading & my writing. Often 1st person seems fake and contrived to me. I can't even tell you how many 1st person pov novels I've set aside because the voice doesn't ring true to me.

  9. Karen, I agree. I will read almost anything if I am captured by the voice.

  10. First let me wish you a very Happy and Holy St. Patrick’s Day!

    My friend Barbara at From My Kitchen Table blogged about attending a talk given by author Alexander McCall Smith the other day and his advice on writing.

    His premise is
    "writing comes from the subconscious" which reiterates the views here. Check it out.

  11. Thank you Irish Ann, same to you! And thanks for the link, I went there and loved that post/interview!

  12. Good post. I think you feel like the rest of us writers - nothing is worse than reading a book with a lousy voice and then we wonder how they got published while we struggle.

    I think the manuscript I'm currently polishing has a unique voice. Hopefully when I'm submitting, agents and publishers will feel the same way.

  13. Great post... but what distinguishes a "weak" voice from a "strong" one? I want to make sure mine is loud and clear.

  14. B. Miller, Good question! Like Kate said, it's like falling in love. So hard to explain, so hard to teach. A voice evokes a personality of the narrator and/or character, and endears them to the reader. Best way to grasp it is to read authors who have strong voices. I recommend Sophie Kinsella, as she's a perfect example of someone who writes with a strong, clear (utterly charming) voice in all her books.

    How to tell if yours is there yet or if it still needs work? Set it aside for a few weeks, then go back and read it. You'll know. A strong voice exudes energy, personality, and a clear picture of the character.

  15. I agree wholeheartedly. I stopped reading a very popular novel because I couldn't stand the voice. Great post!

  16. Great insight, Karen. I'll think about what you said.

  17. I agree - a great voice usually equals a great read. I think having a good voice means knowing your characters inside and out. Easy to say, difficult to do!

  18. I'm another yes-sayer here. Voice is all. Well, not all, but without it....

    Voice is elusive. It loves to play hide and seek with us. Keep writing. The more we write, the more it likes to stick around and see what we're up to.

  19. Trouble is when one creates strong but unlikeable voices...

  20. hampshireflyer, Yes, I've read a few of those books, too lol!

    Carol, to me voice is everything. I know not all readers & writers feel that way, but if I don't like the voice, I can't finish the book.

    Talli, it gets easier with practice I think.

    Mary, I don't expect I'll change you from loving 1st person or vice versa for me, but isn't it nice that there's so many different kinds of writers and readers or we'd be in trouble.

    Elana, thanks! A really popular novel? How about a teensy hint lol?

  21. Very good post.

    Voice is something I think about quite a bit and I agree with you - you find it by writing - a lot.

  22. "How to make our voice stronger? There's really only one way-- write, write, rewrite and write some more. Okay, there's two ways-- read, read and read some more."
    I don't think I'm partial to first or third person narrative, but it's the voice that will have a lot to do with whether or not I like the book.
    Great post, Karen! So much to learn!