|Photo credit: HowardLake on Flickr|
Whenever I’m asked to define voice, I will openly admit I tend to struggle. You know, I say. It’s the writing. How the words are put together. The flow and rhythm and word choice and…words.
The words. Yes, I see now why I’m a writer.
As difficult as it can sometimes be to describe, voice is a huge component when it comes to how people read and interpret your writing. And in the publishing industry, it is, quite frequently, a make-or-break element of a manuscript. For example
The voice didn’t grab me.
I didn’t love the voice as much as I’d hoped.
The voice is too X for my tastes.are all reasons I’ve seen submissions rejected or books poorly reviewed (or even used when recommending a rejection myself). By the same token
I LOVE THE VOICE.
The voice is so compelling (or quirky or [insert happy adjective here]).
The voice is strong and well-written.are all praises I’ve seen (and/or given) for submissions and published books.
So, okay, we all know it’s important, but what is it? And why is it so important? (These two questions are related, so the answers will be two-fold).
Voice is everything I said above, and more. It’s every syntax and word choice you make, it’s why you said the color of the sky right before a snowstorm instead of grayish blue or even just gray. It’s why you said Kristoff was completely and utterly drained instead of Kristoff was so so tired or Kristoff was f*cking exhausted.
It's the difference between
"I am an hourglass.
My seventeen years have collapsed and buried me from the inside out. My legs feel full of sand and stapled together, my mind overflowing with grains of indecision, choices unmade and impatient as time runs out of my body. The small hand of a clock taps me at one and two, three and four, whispering hello, get up, stand up, it's time to
'Wake up,' he whispers." —Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafiand
"There's these two kids, boys, sitting close together, squished in by the big arms of an old chair. You're the one on the left.
The other boy's warm to lean close to, and he moves his gaze from the telly to you sort of in slow motion.
'You enjoying it?' he asks." —Half Bad by Sally Greenand
"XTC was no good for drowning out the morons at the back of the bus.
Park pressed his headphones into his ears.
Tomorrow he was going to bring Skinny Puppy or the Misfits. Or maybe he'd make a special bus tape with as much screaming and wailing on it as possible." —Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
It’s what you say, how you say it and it’s embedded in every sentence of your manuscript.
Which is why it’s so important. Voice is a fundamental part of a book—if the reader doesn’t connect with or like the voice for one reason or another, chances are very likely they’re not going to really enjoy the book. For agents and editors, not liking the voice in a manuscript means they aren’t going to love the manuscript, which means they’re not going to offer (because believe it or not, the work behind publishing is very much a labor of love). Not liking a voice means they’re probably not going to offer an R&R, either. (Probably). Why? Because fixing the voice isn’t something you can really do. At least, not without a ridiculously huge overhaul.
Don’t get me wrong, a problem spot here and there where the voice feels off can totally slide as long as the voice in the rest of the manuscript is solid—problem spots, after all, can be fixed. Entire manuscripts with large-scale voice issues? Much more difficult.
So what does this mean? How do you learn to write a compelling voice? How do you know if your voice is any good?
The answer is pretty simple, really:
- Read (a lot).
- Write (a lot).
- Trade critiques with CPs (a lot).
- Also, read.
This may seem like a simplistic way to answer a complicated question, but there’s really no better way to become a better writer and learn to recognize (and, eventually, produce) compelling voices.
And once it clicks? There’s no going back. Which, in this case, is a pretty awesome thing.
What do you think? Would you add anything to the voice explanation? Also, what are some examples of compelling voices you’ve come across?
When it comes to writing, what is voice and why is it so important? @Ava_Jae shares her thoughts. (Click to tweet)
.@Ava_Jae says voice is frequently a make-or-break element of a MS. What do you think? (Click to tweet)
Voice is "what you say, how you say it and it's embedded in every sentence of your manuscript." (Click to tweet)