At the two writing conferences I’ve attended this summer, editors have made it very clear that they’re looking for writers who possess a strong narrative voice.
But what IS voice? How do you define it?
Consider the immediately identifiable voices of the following famous actors, radio personality and singer; Kathleen Turner, Alan Rickman, Jian Gomeshi and Frank Sinatra. They might use the same words we all do, but there is a quality to their tone and phrasing that make their voices uniquely theirs. So with our own writing voice. We must write in such a compelling way that no-one else could have written our words.
Some of it, it has to be said, is down to natural talent, but writing is also a craft. Craft can be studied and learned.
Ernest Hemingway’s advice was to Write drunk; edit sober. You’re welcome to accept his advice literally, but I think what he really meant was to write your first draft without any inhibitions. Be free and creative in the knowledge that no-one else is ever going to read that draft, then once it’s completed go back and hone your words so your story sounds as you want to tell it.
A solution we discussed at The Alberta Romance Writers’ Association meeting on Thursday was to compare your first and fourth chapters. Do they sound the same? Chapter Four will probably have a stronger voice than Chapter One? It can take a while to hit our stride writing a novel. By Chapter Four we’ve usually settled in with our characters and plot and aren’t thinking so hard about the actual writing as the story takes over. It starts to flow more naturally, and as you relax, your natural voice is more likely to shine through. Identify the strengths of your voice in Chapter Four then go back and take a look at Chapter One again and make sure your voice is clear and true from the first page.