Saturday, June 19, 2010

My kingdom for a voice


I seem to have misplaced my voice. You know, it's that unique little POV way of expressing yourself that every writer and that writer's characters need if they don't want to be lost in the crowd.
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Moira Hahn's "Heaven and Hell" precisely illustrates my howling need. This series of paintings explore an afterlife that is a mashup of Eastern and Western beliefs and culture. I adore the work for its visual voice. It sure gets your attention in a stunning way, doesn't it?
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Voice is on my mind for a variety of reasons. I've been wanting to post a comment Neil Gaiman made in The Guardian's article on writing rules. Among his "rules" were these two:
"Laugh at your own jokes." Really, that's brilliant. You should be chuckling if you're composing a funny scene or witty banter. I do and then wonder if it just my own twisted humor. But when I take my scene to my face-to-face crit group and hear them laugh as I read, relief rushes through me. Okay, I managed to find voice and it was funny.
"Write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter." So says Neil, who has one of the world's great voices.
Now, here I'm going to say I am an avid reader of Neil's blog, which he has been writing for almost a decade. Yes, you read that right. He is one of the original blogging authors. But I can always tell when his stand-in guy writes a post. It's not Neil's voice. It's someone telling us about Neil's life, because Neil can't blog at the moment. That throws me off and drives home the point of how important voice really is.
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And that brings me to my voice, which has gone missing in my query drafts. Sigh. I mean, I think I have a voice, but when I try to wrangle the essence of a novel into a few paragraphs, it becomes these overworked, dull-as-dirt sentences. Luckily for me, I won a query critique from Writing Out the Angst and the wonderful Suzy Hayze has lit a torch to help me find my lost voice.
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What about you, have you found your voice? Are you searching for it? Do you have any idea what it looks like?

36 comments:

Lisa Desrochers said...

God, I hope I've found my voice. I guess you'll all be the judge of that, though. I was just checking out YA Highway's query series and voice in a query is what the agents say caught their attention.

Even though you don't write a query from a character's POV, a handy trick is putting yourself in your character's head, then try to describe the story. That way, the description tend to hit the truly important highlights, and comes through with voice.

Melissa said...

I'm writing the last third of my WIP, and I've noticed that my mc's voice is finally starting to ring true.

Char said...

as a blogger yes...i'm conflicted now as my directions has changed from where i started.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I had my voice on another story but I'm struggling with it on my current WIP. It's always more difficult for me at the start of a project when I'm figuring out who my character IS.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Lisa: From what I've seen, you've got voice a'plenty! And thanks for the tip. I did try an exercise once to write the query in my MC's first-person voice and then convert that to third. It added a lot, but then the query went through a number of drafts while I workshopped it, and all changed. It's amazing how complicated I've made this process. *sigh*

Melissa: It does seem the more we write the tighter we get to the characters' voices. I'm glad you're finding what you need.

Hi Char. I may be eternally conflicted. ;)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Sherrie: Yeah. As we grow to know the character, the voice becomes clearer. I just wish I could distill it into the query.

Dawn: Juggling two different voices may be confusing or it could be liberating. I mean, it seems like the switching could sometimes free up the voice. (This is conjecture on my part)

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Here's the thing: just when you think you've found your voice and an agent or crit reader says it's so strong and unique, another agent or reader tells you the voice didn't grab them and needs some work.

Allllll subjective. Especially voice. ;)

Suzanne Casamento said...

Voice has always been the one thing that I've always got. It's plot, strong openings and great endings that I lack.

As for finding voice in a query, it's sooo hard. Because in essence I'm writing a business letter and my teen voice isn't so good at business. ; )

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Karen: That's for sure!

Suzanne: Exactly! That's my problem. I seem to have voice in the manuscript but have trouble putting it in the query.

Catherine Denton said...

I HAD to read your post when I saw the title in my feed. I am SO wanting my voice to come through. It's difficult to know if it's there or not and I'm assuming not because surely I'd see it if it was.

So yes. I'm still looking for my voice.

Palindrome said...

I have no idea what my voice sounds like. I guess, I try not to focus on that too much when I'm writing. If I do, I'll never write anything because then I will constantly think, is this my voice? Does this part sound like my voice? And when the questions start, the less writing I do. If that makes any sense.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I struggle off and on (I think) with sustaining voice. I definitely have to work hard on it in query letters. Elana and Shannon M. really helped me polish my current query - and what a difference they made! :-)

Jemi Fraser said...

Timely post for me. I'm starting to work on the query and synopsis and I find it hard to keep my voice in there. I've also been editing the bejeepers out of the ms. I'm a bit worried that by cutting so much I've lost some of the voice. I've got to do a reread!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Catherine: Hi, I've missed you! Yes, I'm not sure if we really recognize our own voice, but others do.

Palendrome: Perfect sense. I don't think it's easily defined. It just is there or it isn't.

Shannon: It's the query that's got me tied in knots. And from reading queries on slushpile and other sites, I know a lot of people struggle with it. Condensing so much story and keeping voice is the problem.
I'm glad and not surprised that Elana and Shannon M. gave you a hand. Mighty fine, those two.

Jemi: Isn't it hard??? I may spread out copies of all the query variations I've written and see if I can pick out the parts that work. Argh.

storyqueen said...

Tricia, I sooo feel what you are talking about. This was a HUGE struggle for me.

Two things that really helped me:

Pretending that I was describing the book to a friend (not an agent). Which meant starting from scratch and just letting the description flow.

The second thing was that Maggie Steifvater posted her query on her blog and I thought, "Wow.....that just doesn't follow any of the querying rules....good for her!"

When I finally rewrote the query for the Seven Tales of Trinket from scratch, Joanna SV was the first agent I tried the new query out on...and now she is my agent.

(If you want me to send you the queries so you can see the difference, let me know....)

You have an amazing writing voice....maybe you are being a little hard on yourself....?

Shelley

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Shelley: Okay. I'll try the 'scratch' thing and I'll check Maggie's blog. Thank you, thank you, for the support. I am always hard on myself--hard-wired that way, it seems.

Wen Baragrey said...

One thing I read about putting your voice into a query, is to go through and write the whole thing in first person as your character, then go back and change it into third person, present tense, for the query. It does seem to help!

I think I have my voice fairly firmly established, but I'm never exactly sure of that. What I think, and what everyone else thinks, could be two different things! Voice is one thing I feel relatively secure about. Erm. Mostly.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Wen: You have distinct voice, it's true. I think I may lose it in query, but today I spent rewriting. I had used the first-person before, but I tried it again, as well as Shelley's idea to start from scratch. Doing those two things gave me a revamped beginning, so we'll see how that plays.

Lisa K. said...

I know what you mean. It's so hard to get the voice of your novel across in those queries. I've had voice on my mind a lot lately too since a recent rejection from an agent of my full manuscript said that he didn't care for the voice of my novel. *sigh* That was a tough one to hear.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Voice doesn't come into my work until around draft #5, but then it pops out. Until then I'm too busy focusing on plot and characterizations, or in the case of a query, condensing all that important info.

Don't worry- you'll get it!

Tabitha Bird said...

MY voice? Yes, I can understand why you might be howling! I have my voice, but I fought hard to find it. I hope yours returns soon :)

Talli Roland said...

I do find it hard to keep the voice going - especially in the synopsis! I feel your pain on this one. Good luck, Tricia!

TerryLynnJohnson said...

oh, this is a timely post! I've just started a new wip and been wondering the same thing. I think if you chase it, it will hide.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

LisaK: Ouch. That would be hard. Voice is such a tricky thing and subjective.

Stephanie: Wow. I've never heard of that happening. It's true, we all have our own style and way of working.

Tabitha: A good howl is useful sometimes. ;)

Talli: Yes, that's where the problem is--in the condensing.

TerryLynn: Interesting thought: If you chase it, it will hide. Need to relax and let it flow, huh?

Lydia Kang said...

I've been finding my voice but it's been weird. Sometimes I don't try, and my voice is there, and sometimes I really have to work at it. It's not an exact science with me!

BTW, I'm going to post your answer tomorrow for Medical Mondays. See you there!

Eric W. Trant said...

Sometimes I feel like I've lost my voice, too. You shine too much light on your voice, it'll clam up.

You understand what I mean, don't you? Neil even said it, but sideways: "I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter."

You poke around and analyze and critique your voice, listen to other people about how you should say it, publicize it, open it for discussion, over-edit and revise it, question whether it's right and good and sound, and WHAMMO, laryngitis combined with the complete inability to move your hands, which is crucial if happen to be Cajun.

- Eric

Liza said...

I honestly don't know were I stand with finding my "voice." Maybe I have it when I write blog posts...other things, well I'm not sure. At all.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Lydia: Exact science it surely isn't. And I can't wait to check out your blog Monday. I'm actually revising that very chapter right now, so it couldn't be more timely!

Eric: Ha! Clam up, yup. This is priceless advice.

Liza: You do have voice in your posts and the writing snippets you've posted. Never fear.

Paul C said...

I really enjoy the opening allusion to that painting incorporating varied voices. My kingdom of a voice...Lots to think about here.

Tess said...

Wha? You can hire someone to write your blog posts for you? Can you even imagine being at that point? So, interestingly funny to me.

But, queries are difficult things, Tricia. I don't know many writers who can translate their writing voice over to the business letter. I chose to start my query w/ a short intro (why I chose that agent, etc) and then had a snippit of the novel that I felt showed a bit of story and voice.

I know it is usually frowned upon to include a snippit, but it worked for me. Sometimes you have to break the rules...

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Paul: Thanks! You are the first to comment on the painting. I do love the "voice" of that piece.

Tess: Ha! I know. It is odd and always throws me off. The thing is that Neil posts a lot, even when traveling, but, for some reason has this occasional stand-in.

Wow, Tess, that's interesting about how you wrote the query. In a way, I guess that WAS your voice.

VR Barkowski said...

It's odd, but voice is the one thing I don't worry about when I write fiction, because I can't control it. I occasionally have issues finding a character's voice, but MY own voice is always there - EXCEPT in query letters. My queries sound like someone else, possibly someone deranged, wrote them.

Love Neil Gaiman, his books and his blog! Definitely one of my heroes.

Robyn Campbell said...

Looky here, Pat, ol' pal -o- mine, you have NOT lost your voice. NONSENSE! I've read the stuff you post over here at your house. YOU are totally made of awesome and this voice in your query thing is kinda like Ivy's mental block with math. It's all in your head.

Glad you won the crit. Wonderful. But read your book. Just sit back, and read it like you just picked it up at the bookstore. (Of course, you must pretend it has a spine, ahem.) Then, work on your query. You will be amazed at what you find. *wink*

And I shall call the doc today. Need another antibiotic. *hugs* I loves ya! =)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

VR: Ha! Yes, possibly deranged. That's how it feels when I read my queries. Tweaks my brain.

Robyn: It's great to have you back, and I'm sorry you've been so sick. I love your advice to read my story as if it were a book. I did that almost by accident last night as I read through a huge section looking for plot points I wanted changed. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the reading, so I need to be sure that joy gets into the query, I think.

Barrie said...

I find it sometimes doesn't come through until the 2nd revision. Is it possible that's what's going on for you, Tricia?

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Barrie: I think it's my query that's the problem, but I'm sure going to check the manuscript for any inconsistent voice. I find it hard to capture the book voice in the business letter, I'm afraid.