Friday, March 18, 2011
Caught Red-Handed or How to Leave Fingerprints
I’ve always loved the famous RCA logo with Nipper, the little black and white dog, listening to his master’s voice on the recording. Nipper, with his head cocked inquisitively, recognizes his master’s voice on the machine even though his human is not there.
As baffling as it was for Nipper to understand where his master’s voice was coming from, understanding the art of the writer’s voice can be equally perplexing. There are a lot of definitions for what a writer’s voice is, or isn’t. There are many bits of advice about how to develop your own brand of voice.
One thing is certain, however: a well-developed, unique voice is what sets your writing apart from all others. We know from Claire’s post, “The A to Z of Getting Published in Australia,” that publishers sit up and take notice of manuscripts with a unique voice. In an industry where the odds of being successful are slim-to-none, having a publisher take notice is a Very Good Thing.
What is a writer’s voice?
Generally, there is a consensus that voice is the sum of a writer’s experience, convictions, angst, triumphs, and expectations. It’s originality, a spark, an attitude. It’s presence. Without being present in your writing, there is no original voice and no real reason for anyone to be attracted to your work.
So, voice reveals the writer’s personality, but with several caveats. I like what Nathan Bransford, former literary agent and current author, says about voice. “We should never make the mistake as readers of equating an author with their voice, but they're wrapped up together in a complicated and real way. We leave fingerprints all over our work. That part of you in your work is what makes it something that no one else can duplicate.”
Fingerprints! Our literary voice is like fingerprints, undeniably original. I also like what literary agent, Rachelle Gardner, adds to the definition of voice. “ To me, your writer's voice is the expression of YOU on the page. It's that simple—and that complicated. Your voice is all about honesty. It's the unfettered, non-derivative, unique conglomeration of your thoughts, feelings, passions, dreams, beliefs, fears and attitudes, coming through in every word you write. Voice is all about your originality and having the courage to express it.”
How to Find Your Voice.
Originality and having the courage to express it. Simple, eh? Where do you find your voice, then? Ms. Gardner goes on to say that most of us spend a lifetime learning to present an image to the world. We mostly hide who we really are, either afraid to show our true colors, or having copied others for so long we’re out of touch with our real selves.
So developing your voice calls for honesty. That dig-deep, psychotherapy kind of honesty. It means shedding the affectations, dropping the imitations of writers you admire, forgetting the expectations of your audience, leaving your fears, until all that is left is what spills from the center of you.
Not easy and obviously the only way to do this is to write, write, write until the words on the page sound like you: original and engaging, or dark and brooding, or smartass funny, or whatever YOU are. Voice emerges quite naturally as a writer develops her skills. Those of us who have found our voice can attest to this. I’ve been writing for twenty-odd years, and still I often find that I flail around, stumble and bumble through a piece of writing, until I remember my voice. Then suddenly it’s smooth sailing. My trouble starts when I don’t listen to my own voice.
There are many suggestions out there for finding your writer’s voice. I find some of them silly and some of them quite valid. In the end, though, it’s writing - and a lot of it - that will develop your voice. If you haven’t found yours, or don’t know if you’ve got one, relax. It’ll come to you. There’s no secret but to write honestly.
For those of you who have found your voice - tell us how you did it. I’m guessing for most of us, it was as natural as learning to walk. We crawled, toddled, and fell on our butts a few times before we walked. And then, with confidence, we ran with it. Or to mix metaphors... we left our fingerprints all over it.