Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Something about Voice

When reading requested material, one thing I like to do is simply go through my email and randomly open the attachments. Without knowing whether the book is romance, fantasy, mystery, YA, or nonfiction, I start reading. A good book with a good voice will tell me what genre the book is without me ever asking. In other words, I shouldn’t have to know ahead of time because the author’s voice will tell me where in bookstores the book belongs.

Jessica

29 comments:

T C Mckee said...

This is so true. I can usually spot a YA a mile away with just one "BFF". Takes all the guess work out of whether or not I'm going to need a pocket dictionary:)

Regina said...

I love this post because it states it so simply. Most people get caught up in backstory that it is hard to find the true voice.

Transparent Mama said...

Perfect advice. Work on voice. It is on every agent blog.

Anthony said...

That is so cool.

How fine it would be to randomly open an attachment and start reading a wonderful novel.

Sangu said...

That is so true, Jessica! If I think about the voice in my favourite books, I can spot the genre a mile away. For example, THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE is obviously a love story from the start, and THE HUNGER GAMES feels like YA dystopian from the first few pages. This is definitely something I can think about and work on as an author.

Sean said...

That is awesome. Thanks for the tip!

Kristin Laughtin said...

Very true! I suppose one can make some exceptions. For example, someone mentioned THE TIME TRAVELLER'S WIFE, which could be considered science fiction, although one wouldn't be able to tell from the voice. This could be just because the SF elements are understated (when compared to Philip K. Dick or similar authors) or because certain genres lend themselves better to having distinctive voices, and TTTW is more focused on the love story anyway. But one should definitely get an immediate feel for the parts of humanity being explored, the audience, and maybe even the themes (in very general terms) from the voice within a few pages.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of voice, who is Miss Snark? Some say it was just a blogger, not a real agent. Is there a way of knowing for sure? I understand that SFWA has said that they don't know who it is and neither does P&E or Absolute Write. I sent her a query once and later my idea came out with someone else's name on the byline. Jessie P.

ryan field said...

I love short, sweet, smart posts like this.

This is blogging at it's best!!

Scooter Carlyle said...

I have a question for you regarding voice. My novel takes place in two different worlds, modern-day Earth and another world of my creation. The main character is constant in both worlds.

Parts of the story from her perspective are written in first person, and other characters are written in a tightly-focused third person. Her voice is quirky and humorous, and I'm shooting for the third person perspective to be a more serious, rich prose.

Based on your comments above, would that bother you or perhaps put me at a disadvantage? I'm really striving to make both perspectives engaging. It begins in first person, then switches for the first time about 40 pages later.

MartzBookz said...

So very true!That's a great test:)

June G said...

A very succinct and simplistic way of saying something so profound. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Might we be allowed to edit comments? That would be lovely. Its as a possessive needs no apostrophe, as I'm sure the commenter knows, but those pesky fingers do get ahead of us sometimes.

And simplistic isn't a synonym for "elegantly simple." It means "oversimplified" and indicates that complexities have been overlooked so that the resulting argument is no longer true.

Just a pet peeve. But then, all things considered, that commenter may have used the word with perfect accuracy.

ryan field said...

"Might we be allowed to edit comments? That would be lovely. Its as a possessive needs no apostrophe, as I'm sure the commenter knows, but those pesky fingers do get ahead of us sometimes."

If the commenter had enough time in the day to waste worrying about edits on a blog thread, the commenter would have more problems than an apostrophe :)

Bri Clark said...

Every one says work on voice. While I agree with the advice. I have yet to see someone say how to do it. Is this one of those simply you got it or you don't type things? What I do is read and write, read and write. I read my genre, marinate and let my mind wonder. Then my voice just kind of speaks as I type.

Thank you Jessica for the clear and concise post. Hope your queries happen in the same aspect for you.
Bri

Scooter Carlyle said...

@Anonymous at 7:44

I don't see any reason to be so condescending. It was rude and was intended for no other reason than to humiliate another, grammatical errors notwithstanding, and I notice you did not leave your name and take responsibility for your actions.

I believe an apology is due.

Gilbert J. Avila said...

I remember reading that Oscar Wilde once said that while writing a poem, in the morning he put in a comma, and then in the afternoon he took it out again.

Dawn Embers said...

Agreed. I had a recent submission evaluation to do and while the story wasn't bad, I had no clue what genre it belonged in. There wasn't enough in the first three chapters I was given to indicate that information to me. It would have made the novel stand out more if the voice had been a bit stronger.

Deb said...

Um, yes, yes and yes on this. And yet how come I never thought of it? Thank for this!

lora96 said...

Very concise and true. I think the mood set on the first couple of pages is very reflective of voice.

Lauren Doyle said...

Voice is the thing I struggle with most. It's so challenging to nail down a consistent voice throughout.

Nicole said...

True, though these days I think there are some cases where things could get tricky. For example, reading a paranormal romance for the first time - would you know if it went in the fantasy section or in romance? ;D

Pepper Smith said...

Anon 12:39

You queried Miss Snark? I wanna see the scars.

People come up with the same ideas all the time. You just make yourself crazy assuming people are stealing yours.

Marjorie said...

I totally agree an author must have a "voice," however the voice can be mercurial.

I have one voice in the captions at "marjorie-cartoons," and quite another voice in the poems at "marjorie-digest."

I believe an author should constantly be reinventing herself. I code switch... like some multiple personality in a maze.

Anonymous said...

@Anon12:39

If you queried Miss Snark (Why in the world would you query an agent you know nothing about, not even a name?), she probably didn't even read it once she realized it was a query. She certainly didn't steal it and give it to one of her writers. Ideas are a dime a dozen.

I realize it must've been years since you queried her, but if you haven't already, it's time to start researching publishing. Querying an anonymous blogging agent means you're not up on the business side of the industry, which makes you prey for scammers and bad agents and vanity publishers. Once you learn about the industry, it should ease your fears that someone stole your idea.

Anne R. Allen said...

Anon 12:39-- The late, lamented Miss Snark was a character invented by a real agent who prefers to remain anonymous. Several people threatened to sue La Snark, including an unscrupulous faux agent who accused the Stillettoed One of being a "dragoon."

It's best to let the mystery be.

Kind of like the secret of how to develop "voice."

Anonymous said...

And how to writer a good query.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

God, I miss Ms. Snark.

Haste yee back ;-)

karenlee said...

Ms Snark is alive and well and holding contests.