Literary Liaisons

A blog about writing and all things story…

Writer’s Voice – That Elusive X-Factor

One of your most powerful tools as a writer is your voice. Whether it’s arrived at via your mastery of literary devices or it’s your organic language, your distinctive style allows you to communicate to the reader through the printed word. Without a voice, even an exciting plot falls flat on the page while the same story told with a compelling voice beckons a reader to curl up with a book and read until dawn.

Sadly, even though Voice is the ‘X Factor’ editors seek, it can’t be taught, it can only be practiced. And even though it’s what editors seek, few can tell you what it is. Most editors find it tricky to describe exactly what ‘voice’ is, like Simon Cowell they just know it when they see it.

I think your voice exists inside your writing like the great statues of marble sculpted by Michelangelo who famously said he saw the statue in the stone before he began to sculpt. Like carving away marble, many writers, me included, need to carve away their preconceived notions of what they think writing is. Many novice writers work hard at trying to sound like a writer, poring through the thesaurus, the synonym finder and description books looking for fancy substitutions for ordinary words and creative ways to describe a person, place or thing. Then they craft flowery sentences laden with complex words and notions and then fall in love with their own words on that glorious page. What they forget is to use their own unique voice and to simply tell a good story. Instead, the story gets lost. In the loosing of the story, that once unique voice is buried in two tons of marble.

Me at 3, with Great-grandma and grandma & grandpa

So, recently, in finding a unique voice for two new short stories, I had to forget some things about what I thought writing was all about and just write. When I did this (old school; pen and paper) what poured out was the unique voices of my past; on one side of my family, my southern aunt, and from the other side, my old world (Poland) great-grandmother – both with unique sayings, colloquialisms, and a view on life completely different from my own, and completely as a result of their experiences, and from those experiences came their unique world view and from that world view came their language and from this brew of life came the colorful dye for my two stories.

This organically fueled my writing giving my words a voice and tone that would not have existed otherwise and that (I believe) raised the stories to another level. To do this you need to do what Jack Remick andRobert Ray teach, what Natalie Goldberg taught them; sit down and write. Stop sitting at your fancy computer with all your fancy books and tools and grab a spiral notepad, plop down in a coffee shop, uncap your favorite pen and write; 30 minutes, 45 minutes, whatever. Let the words spill out onto the page without an editor, without caring how perfect or imperfect they are, follow them deeper and deeper, let them lead you, not you craft them. Crafting comes later; write!

How?  Use funky titles, creative diction, strange or outdated words, foreign (un-translated) words, colloquial speech, heavily-laden wordsloaded with religion, sadness, blood, violence, and darkness also helps create tone, strong verbs, use metaphors and similes, especially if organic to the place where your character is from; the American South, Iceland, Ireland, church, prison, etc. Just write the way you see it, not the way someone else is telling you to see it. Forget the restraints and remember how to play with your words and ideas – color outside of the lines. Write!

2 comments on “Writer’s Voice – That Elusive X-Factor

  1. Jack
    December 11, 2012

    Hello Mindy–another good piece,more insights. Stephen also has a point–don't get lost in the shuffle. wish you could have made it on Saturday to hear those voices in full concert–the same voices that blasted out the work at the tables in those timed sessions you write about here. thanks for supporting the cause. J

  2. Stephen Hayes
    December 11, 2012

    A very interesting post. When I was a kid and decided to become a painter I studied hundreds of artists and got completely lost in the shuffle. As a writer I don't spend much time on the "how to Write" books but just plow ahead to get my stories out. I think too much study and research from so-called experts can be a hindrance.

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