Today, please help me welcome author Ally Broadfield to Preternatura. Ally has stopped by today to talk about finding and nurturing one’s “voice” in writing. Her first book, Just a Kiss, is coming from Entangled Publishing in December 2013. Not sure what “voice” is? It’s one of those writing terms but an important one. If you have a favorite author because you like the way he or she phrases things, or creates vivid characters, or puts “personality” into her writing, that’s what we call voice. Whether I’m writing as Suzanne or Susannah, I have a style of writing in short, incomplete sentences, and my characters tend to have a self-deprecating humor. That’s voice!
Ally Broadfield lives in Texas and is convinced her house is shrinking, possibly because she shares it with three kids, five dogs, two cats, a rabbit, and several reptiles. Oh, and her husband. She likes to curse in Russian and spends most of her spare time letting dogs in and out of the house and shuttling kids around. She writes historical romance and middle grade/young adult fantasy. You can find Ally on her website, Facebook, and Twitter (though she makes no claims of using any of them properly).
And now, let’s hear from Ally…
by Ally Broadfield
The very first comment I received on my writing was from a critique partner who said I had a great voice. I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, but I immediately did some research and found out. Even while I struggled with setting aside that first, hopelessly tangled manuscript, the positive comments I received about my voice were what kept me writing.
Your voice is the thing that differentiates you from other writers. It is uniquely you and no one else can duplicate it. It consists of your hopes, your fears, your dreams, your beliefs, your writing style, your life experiences, the books you’ve read, the movies you’ve watched, your elementary school English teachers, and every other thing in your life that has come together to make you who you are. It is the cadence, the rhythm, the flow of your writing.
I’ve heard others liken voice to a musical instrument, with each instrument making its own sound. Though I agree with the musical analogy, I prefer to liken voice to different types of music. The instruments come together as a group to determine the genre of music and the components of each unique song. Classical music, pop music, jazz, rap—they all utilize a combination of instruments to define their sound. No two songs are exactly alike because even if they use the same instruments, the notes are strung together differently or the words are sung differently. How many different versions of The Star-Spangled Banner have you heard? For the same reasons, no two stories are exactly alike because we each use our own combination of elements in our writing and our words are written differently. Imagine the results if Edgar Allan Poe and Jane Austen had been asked to write the same story.
So how can you nurture your voice? Here are some suggestions:
Shake Things Up
If you’re not happy with your voice or you want to strengthen it, try something new. Write flash fiction, a short story, a novella, a novel—whatever length is different from what you’ve been writing. Or try a new genre. Write in verse. You just might discover that you’ve been trying to write the wrong thing all along, or you might find a new way to write what you love.
Allow Yourself the Freedom to Experiment
Forget the rules. Forget how that bestselling writer sounds. Be you. Experiment. Break the rules. Write an entire scene of backstory. Use an adverb in every sentence. Write from a second person point of view. Try something unexpected and see where it leads you.
Write Quickly and Don’t Allow Yourself to Edit
Write as quickly as you can, and don’t go back to edit until you’ve finished the first draft. The first time I tried this, I was a failure. I tried to do NaNoWriMo and I wrote less than 20,000 words because I couldn’t turn off my inner editor. But by using a timer and participating in writing sprints on Twitter, I managed to write more than 50,000 words the second time I tried it. Being able to write the first draft of a novel in a month is great, but what I found fascinating is that when I write that quickly my subconscious takes over. When I went back and read that manuscript a few months later, I didn’t remember writing several of the scenes. It was almost as if someone else had written the book. Yet, I did recognize my voice shining through.
Draw From Your Own Experiences
I write historical romance set in Regency England and Imperial Russia. Clearly, I haven’t experienced those environments, but I do know what it’s like to have someone try to make me feel inferior, be the subject of gossip and speculation, and have someone I trusted betray me. Reach back into your junior high or high school years and remember how it felt the first time you fell in love, the first time your experienced the death of someone close to you, the first time you were snubbed by the popular crowd. Chances are, you have untapped insight into whatever your characters are going through. Use all of your experiences, both good and bad, to make your writing authentic and uniquely yours.
Edit with Your Voice in Mind
I work as a freelance proofreader, and I’ve read many manuscripts, some of which have been so stripped down by someone who was trying to follow the rules that all the life has been edited out of them. Always read your work aloud while editing. Listen to your words; the rhythm, cadence, and flow of the sentences and paragraphs. Too many adverbs can be a problem, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any. Sometimes you need an extra beat in a sentence and a well-chosen adverb works well. When used sparingly, adverbs can also help differentiate between characters and help give them each their own unique voice. Use of a “to be” verb does not automatically make a sentence passive. If you write in the past tense, you’re going to have to use “was” sometimes (but not with an –ing verb and not when you could use a stronger verb in its place).
There are limitless tools available to help make your voice distinctive. Add rhetorical devices, or utilize punctuation to show how your character is unique. You can use an ellipsis to show slow speech, or dashes to show fast speech. The way you punctuate will affect the overall cadence and rhythm of your story.
How about you? Who’s an author whose voice you enjoy? Are there particular things she does that win you over?
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