Wednesday, August 16, 2006


A rather resounding silence.

Hope you liked the story yesterday--I am just paranoid enough that the lack of any comments whatsoever makes me nervous. No, I am NOT fishing for compliments. I'm just sayin'.

Anyway, one of my writer friends was just asking about the elusive 'voice', and how to cultivate it. Sometimes us writers see the constant agent request for a "new, fresh voice" and we just panic. Is voice something that can even be created? Is it inherent to a writer, or learned? And how can we change voice when moving from one project to another, or one POV to another?

I was very pleased to see, when I re-read the story below yesterday, that the voice is completely different from that in TMT. The character is, at least to my read, completely male, and clearly Native American. His thoughts, his actions, his words and metaphors, all reflect that point of view. If I wrote that story with the same word choices as TMT, which are supposed to reflect the thoughts and actions of a young, medieval woman in England, we would have a serious voice disconnect. That would lose readers. (By the way, that story was a perfect example of the writing magic. I wrote it in 2 hours, with very, very few changes as I went along. Almost like dictation. I love it when that happens, but it is oh so rare.)

In my mind, then--and I may be wrong on this, so feel free to call me out--voice is largely a matter of being deep in the POV character. The words you use even to describe the actions of a POV character should be different from those for another character--and that culminates in voice.

However, sometimes there is a voice for the novel as a whole (or series of novels) rather than for one particular character, and I'm not sure I can define that as easily. That voice may be inherent to the writer: a certain type of chapter structure, perhaps, or a way of opening scenes. The method of handling tension and flow. These are beyond individual POV and beyond word choice.

Have you ever read a book by an author and started thinking like the book? D.H. Lawrence does this to me, and so, unfortunately, does James Joyce. (Which is why I avoid James Joyce...who wants to go around thinking like Ulysses?) That is an example of a strong book voice. It's so insistent that it pushes into your head.

Voice may well be a challenge for me with Book 2. Here we are with another young, medieval woman in almost the same time period as in TMT--yet the voice has to be different. The character is vastly different: Spanish-born, royal, warped by tragedy. Isabella is not naive as Katherine was; she didn't have a chance to be. My choice of words, of cadence, of everything will have to reflect that. Oh, and it has to be engaging, and "fresh and new" too. No problem, right? It all depends on whether I can 'hear' her or not, and whether I can capture that 'voice' on the page.

Medieval Word of the Day: pomely: Marked with rounded spots, dappled.


Cindy said...

Dear Susan:
I see voice in two ways, as you mentioned. The characters' voice, and my voice as the author/storyteller, depending on the POV. (In a story told in first person, they'd be the same, but different in third person.) I have to watch that my smartass, twenty-first century woman-speak doesn't creep into my historical, but I wonder sometimes if I don't want to let my character say what and how she wants (within reason)- remembering that my readers would be twenty-first century women after all. And look what happened when Diana Gabaldon let her character have her head!

Anyway, to me, voice is best described as personality. If you have to fake it, you're going wrong somewhere.

Sara Walker Howe said...

Hi Susan,

I was going to get around to blogging about this later this week, once I've had a chance to sort out my thoughts on the matter.

I like your definition, and Cindy's. Next time I see an agent guest blogging or Q&Aing, I'm going to ask.

I like the piece you posted yesterday. I've read it before, though.

Susan Adrian said...


Yes, you definitely have to be careful of the modern-woman as historical character problem. A real problem with some historicals. (And though Diana did it with Claire, she had to make Jamie's voice ring true as an 18th-century Scotsman!)

Voice as personality. That's a thought.

Susan Adrian said...


I've seen some agents talk about voice...I know "Agent Obscura" did at some point. I'm just not sure that they can define it any better than we can. {s}

I'll look forward to your blog post on the subject! (thanks for the idea!)

And yeah, that story is probably still up at the forum. But I hadn't read it since I posted it. Don't you find it fun sometimes to read an old piece of yours? It's like you didn't even write it.

Sara Walker Howe said...


It's just weird for me. I can remember the reason I wrote it (the snippet of dialogue that started it, or the emotion I wanted to capture) and I can see that's it's in my style for that time, but, I don't know, at the same time it's not me. I guess it's like hearing one's own voice on the answering machine.