Author voice is something many young authors obsess about. In the early days of writing, we search for the “aha moment” of discovering our unique voice. Voice is sometimes even a difficult subject for authors who’ve developed their craft. I’ll raise my hand and admit to being such an author. Although I believed my voice was clear enough for my editors to enjoy my work, I could more easily hear the voices of my co-authors and critique partners, Mechele Armstrong and Maureen Gianinio. They were unique to me and I could describe them in words, unlike my own, which I couldn’t seem to highlight. I wanted to pinpoint my own voice. I needed to be able to describe my voice as easily as I could those of my friends.
I understood the concept of voice. Voice is everywhere in the entertainment industry with artists, musicians, directors, composers, even guitarists. Ever notice an Ann Geddes photograph? She’s got a brand, a style of her own. What about a Kim Anderson figurine? Do you have a favorite singer you’ll buy or at least recognize on the radio just from the first few strains? What about an actor? Is there an actress whose film you just have to go see? Ever notice movie directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton, and Mel Brooks have a distinct feel to their movies? The placement of cameras, the position of actors, a certain light quality, etc. Who doesn’t recognize the sounds of the late great Jimi Hendrix or Steven Ray Vaughan? What about the drawn-out sultry strum of the fleet-fingered Keith Urban’s guitar playing? That style is their voice, and it’s something that makes them recognizable.
Our voice is something that sets us apart from the next author. Voice is distinctive. Voice is like your personality, or for some (like me), an alter ego personality. Anyone who knows me knows I’m bubbly and easy-going, yet my writing always has a dark quality. Style is a particular way a writer uses words or phrases in their writing. There are certain quirks or traits you take with you no matter what you do. It’s part of your personality, your voice. It’s how people recognize you. Of course, there is another part of voice that will definitely change depending on what is going on at any giving moment in a story. When I write historical romance, my voice becomes formal, while in a contemporary story it will be more laid back. A time or two my voice has been compared to that of Lori Foster and Karen Robards. Voice is something that resonates or doesn’t resonate with a reader.
I’ve heard more than one author say even if you write very different genres or under different pen-names, you carry over your voice throughout your career. So, you’re still “you” and people recognize that. I believe this. My former Ellora’s Cave editor, Nick Conrad, told me time and again that I had one of his very favorite “male” voices. Patti Steel-Perkins stated in a critique that I had a good clear voice. Roberta Brown, my former agent, echoed Patti statement that I’ve a good clear voice. And my Samhain editor, Lindsey McGurk, went a step further by describing my voice as clear, tight and fast-paced. I believe this means readers will find a lot of white space in my stories since I write heavy dialogue. And no matter the genre or theme I’m writing, my muse doesn’t spin a light-hearted romp. Instead, I write a darker atmosphere. I can’t imagine the core of my writing style changing.
The best advice I can give a budding author is to be honest in your writing. Truth is what counts, in character, in plot and everything else. Just write, write and keep writing to develop and tone your voice. Craft can be learned, while our voices just are what they are. There are no shortcuts, no workshops, no easy answers, because your voice is part of you. It’s your attitudes, the way you talk, the way you look at the world. It all comes through in your voice. Eventually, someone will say “I love your voice” and you’ll likely think, “I didn’t know I had one”. Once upon a time I sure didn’t.
© 2011 Melissa Lopez