Welcome back to the blog! Today for the A to Z Blogging Challenge I’ve got Kris Bock talking about voice. A strong voice is something writers are told they need but a lot of them have no idea what it is.
There’s nothing like having your own “slush pile” to give insight into what editors see. I’ve judged or critiqued several writing contests and critiqued conference manuscripts. Some of the entries were fairly advanced, but only a couple were publishable. I saw many of the same problems over and over.
The better novels had an interesting character and plot (at least so far as I could judge based on the 10-20 pages I had). The weakness was typically in the voice. Voice can be one of those hard-to-define, “I’ll know it when I see it” things. It’s also often viewed as something instinctive, almost magical. Perhaps for those reasons, many people don’t try to learn voice.
But “voice” really just means style, and of course there are many techniques you can learn to improve your style. Some are simple, some more complex and harder to master. That’s a good thing, as we can keep learning, step-by-step.
Steps in Dialogue
For example, dialogue attributions must, at a minimum, be clear, so the reader is never confused about who is speaking. But even clear attributions can make the dialogue either flow smoothly or sound clunky. For strong dialogue, first you might learn to use “said” rather than fancy alternatives that call attention to themselves and look amateurish, such as demanded, inquired, responded, suggested, etc.
Next you might learn that you don’t have to identify the speaker with every line, if the speaker is clear from the conversational pattern. You can start cutting a few of those repetitive saids.
Then you might learn that you can often identify the speaker with an action or gesture, and cut the dialogue attribution altogether. (Ironically, now you’re removing nearly all of those saids that you included in the first step.) Not only does this make the dialogue smoother, but it helps keep readers grounded in the scene because they can picture the characters as they move, gesture, and change expression.
Other areas where voice comes into play are pacing, close point of view, and showing rather than telling. I don’t have time to explore all that here, but once again those are areas where you can make small steps toward ultimately strong writing.
Is a strong voice the key to writing success? Not necessarily. Some published works get by with weak voice because of a marketable hook, a dramatic plot, or the author’s fame. And voice alone won’t interest editors or readers unless you have the concept, character, and plot to support the voice. But improving your writing style bit by bit can make the difference between almost-there and success.
So how do you learn these lessons? Fortunately, you have lots of options!
- Courses through correspondence schools, or local classes, workshops and conferences with a craft focus.
- Books on the craft of writing. My book Advanced Plotting covers pacing, with articles on how to build a scene and writing cliffhanger chapter endings. I like Scene and Sequence, by Jack Bickham, Manuscript Makeover, by Elizabeth Lyon, and my favorite for style, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. I’ve been hearing good things about The Emotion Thesaurus
- Blogs are a great not only because they are free, but because you can learn a little bit every week or every day. Besides this one, check out Fiction Universityby Janice Hardy, and Jodie Renner Editing. And you’ll find my blog, with lots of information on showing versus telling, pacing, and more, at Write like a Pro! Scroll down to the labels on the right to see past topics.
- Critique groups and other beta readers are also a big help. If you don’t have experienced critique partners, cultivate some. Some regional writing groups help match up critique partners. Listserves or discussion boards are another way to connect with people.
- Finally, unless your critique partners are all professional writers and editors, chances are eventually you will go as far as you can with their help. Then it may be time to hire a professional editor, or at least get a critique at a conference. Many well-published writers and writing teachers can be hired for private critiques (myself included; see rates and recommendations on my blog). You can even hire some well-known former editors from traditional publishing houses. In addition, some agents and editors occasionally give free critique feedback on their blogs, typically of query letters or first pages.
It’s easy to feel impatient and want publication now. It’s tempting to believe that since you took one course or read a couple of books on writing, you’re ready to submit your work. But learning to write well is a long, ongoing process. I’ve been writing for over 20 years and teaching for 10. I have about 30 traditionally published children’s books as well as self published novels for children (written as Chris Eboch) and adults (written as Kris Bock). And I keep learning. The market is harder than ever, so give yourself every advantage. Who doesn’t want a few new tools in their bag of tricks?
Besides, the journey is half the fun! We can’t control the end result, so we might as well enjoy and grow from the process.
Kris Bock writes romantic adventures involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. The Mad Monk’s Treasure and The Dead Man’s Treasure follow treasure hunts in the New Mexico desert; Whispers in the Dark involves archaeology and intrigue among ancient ruins; and in Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. Visit www.krisbock.com or sign up for Kris Bock newsletter. http://eepurl.com/5Dd_f
Kris writes for children under the name Chris Eboch. Her novels for ages nine and up include Bandits Peak, a survival thriller; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy, The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.
Cindy here again.
Great tips about voice. I will have to check out some of those books.