Finding Your Voice
by D.P. Lyle
So, you’ve sent your manuscript to an agent or an editor, and now you wait. Will they like it? Will they take you on as a client or publish your work? What makes them decide? Is it the unique premise or clever plot? Maybe the colorful characters? Or the snappy dialog and wonderfully-rendered setting?
No, the one thing agents/editors look for more than anything else is the voice. When they say they are searching for something fresh or something that speaks to them, they mean the narrative voice.
What is voice?
You’ll see many definitions. Mine is: voice is your distinctive way of telling your story. It comes from three things: knowledge, experience, and confidence. Here are some things you can do to help you acquire those tools:
Most things we learn along life’s journey come from others—an apprenticeship, of sorts. For sure medical school was that. So is writing. To write, you must read. Constantly. That will teach you what others are doing and how they’re doing it. Some writing will speak to you, other writing might not. You will gravitate to word choices, sentences structures, and the sound of some writers’ voices, but not those of others.
Your assignment: go to the library, your local bookstore, or even use online previews to read the first few pages of 50 books. Some will work for you—the operative phrase here is “for you.”
Take what speaks to you and embrace it in your own writing.
The great Australian writer Bryce Courtney often said that the secret to writing was “bum glue.” Glue your bum to the chair and write. So true. Write every day. Write your way. Copy the styles of the writers you like. Not that you will write exactly the same way but, rather, elements of their writing that work for you will creep into your own prose. This will evolve over time and before long—like riding a bicycle—you will be off and writing in your own voice.
This, to me, is the key. Be fearless. Tell your story in your own words—your own voice. Don’t worry about what others might think or whether it fits the so-called rules. Tell your story your way. Knowledge and experience breed confidence.
Art, Then Craft
Writing is an art and a craft. The art is the storytelling and the craft is making it cleaner and more publishable. Don’t let the craft kill the art. Don’t over-edit as you go. Write the story fast, write it your way, in your voice, then go back and clean it up. As Hemingway said: write drunk, edit sober. Get drunk on your writing, spill it on the page, then take a sober assessment and fix what needs fixing. Write fast, edit slow.
Repeat the above steps throughout your career. Continue reading, writing, experimenting. Novels often seem so big that authors get tied up in the plotting, the juggling of characters and dialog, and this kills the creativity. Write shorter things. Start a journal and write scenes that come to you. Be fearless. Write your way. No filters. No critiquing. Just writing, and storytelling. Before long, what you learn will infest all your writing. It will become your voice.
In the end, your voice is yours. It’s personal. No one else has it. Only you. Let it out. Don’t handcuff it or kill it. Let it guide you through your story. In the end, you will have your story, told your way. That’s always the goal, and it’s what agents and editors and, most importantly, readers are looking for.
D.P. Lyle is the Macavity and Benjamin Franklin Silver Award-winning and Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, Scribe, Silver Falchion, and USA Best Book Award-nominated author of 16 books, both fiction and non-fiction. Along with Jan Burke, he is the co-host of Crime and Science Radio. He has worked with many novelists and with the writers of the TV shows Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women’s Murder Club, The Glades, and Pretty Little Liars. You can visit D.P. Lyle at his website www.dplylemd.com You can read his blog at writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com.
(To become a Killer Nashville Guest Columnist, send a query to email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you.)