So, who are you? No, really.

Cross-posted over at the Liars Club site.

One day I was talking with my editor over at Random House about the sorts of manuscripts that come flooding into her slush pile. I asked what was one of the biggest problems a manuscript can have. Her immediate response: the writer’s voice.  She knew she could use her editorial skills to adjust problems with things like pacing, structure, dialogue, plotting. But if there was something wrong with the writer’s voice, there wasn’t anything she could do about it.

Just one day later I found myself in a similar conversation with my agent.  And her answer was the same.  If the writer’s voice is off, that’s something no one can fix.

So the writer’s voice is obviously terribly important.  If the reader hates the personality behind the written words, a personality that surely comes through in the way an author expresses herself, then they are not going to want to hang out with that author throughout an entire novel.

But you gotta be who you are, don’t you?  If your style is sarcastic or playful or intense or passionate or ironic, then so be it.  The good news is that writing is a very subjective business, and surely someone will identify with you and embrace your voice in a work.  The bad news is that writing is a very subjective business, and surely someone will be turned off by your voice…and that person may be an editor or an agent.

Aside from being a voice that turns a reader off, how can a voice have “something wrong” with it?  It can be inconsistent, so that it feels like you have multiple personalities.  Or it can be so over-the-top that it overwhelms a work and gets in the way of the story – like if your voice is unduly pompous, or obnoxiously funny in that you-are-so-not-funny way. Another problem is if the voice is obviously not your own.

I started out like most young writers imitating the voices of writers I loved. T.H. White. John Steinbeck. Ann Tyler.  I couldn’t help it. I was surrounded with their works, their words filled my head, and I didn’t really get that it was more important to be me.  Truthfully, I didn’t fully know who I was yet.

I became most successful when I started seeing things through my own eyes, and when I started using my own language and my own quirky tone. I think this is tied into confidence. At least it was for me.

When an author believes they have something worth saying, and a point of view worth sharing, it comes through.  Readers join in for the ride and feel the authority behind the writer’s voice.  It makes them think, even when reading the most bizarre of tales, that there is something real about it all.

And it makes agents and editors believe they have something in their hands worth championing.

7 thoughts on “So, who are you? No, really.

  1. I’ve been told I have a dark humourous voice…since I write fantasy/horror stories, guess that’s a good thing. Not too good if I were going to write Romance 🙂

  2. I agree with this so much. The problem is, I can’t help but not know what my own voice is. It’s so easy for me when I’m reading the works of others, but when it comes to self – evaluation, I tend to come up short. Do you think it’s important for writers to evaluate their own style at a regular basis?

    • Hi!

      I think it can be hard to “hear” ourselves in our writing. Sometimes the trick is to let a piece of work sit for a while, and then go back to it and read it aloud to feel the rhythms and swells of the words you chose. I think it’s important to write with honesty, if that makes sense. Your own voice is something that I don’t think you can manufacture, but you can check into your writing from time to time to see if you are communicating your view of things in a clear way and with your own unique personality.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


      • I do try to write as honestly as I could, like it’s from the heart. But when I look at my work, Sometimes I feel it’s inconsistent. I could be dark and serious one time, but a “humorist” (?) the next. I hope this madness is not only limited to me, though. And thanks for the help! *I’ve never read any of my writings aloud before. I’m gonna do just that now 😀

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