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A strong voice

I’m thinking out loud here, so bear with me, but I had a moment today where I took a peek at the unread queries currently sitting in my inbox.  In a spontaneous move, I began opening attachments, or skipping down to the copy and pasted text underneath the cover letter of randomly selected emails.  Rather than starting from the top, reading introductions, pitchlines, etc., I dove right into the stories themselves. This is one of those tests that can help me decide if a submission will really pull me in, making me eager to keep reading.  I realize that the summaries and blurbs in a query matter–because they do–but at the same time, if a book has a strong voice, then I shouldn’t need to have the genre blatantly spelled out for me—the story should be able to tell me that all on its own.

So I wonder, in your writing process, how do you manage to keep the voice of your work strong? Do you write, but then go back and question it, or do you just let the words flow and let the voice (pun and all) speak for itself?

7 Responses to A strong voice

  1. JGStewart says:

    Short answer: both.

    Longer answer: Once I’ve figured out what the ‘voice’ is, I try to write in that voice. I find the more consistent I am with my writing schedule, the easier this is–after a while it just happens naturally.

    But I also try to keep the flow going when I’m writing (as opposed to editing), so I inevitably screw up the voice in various ways, which then have to be fixed in the editing process. Again, the more consistent I am about writing in the voice, the less I end up having to edit it later.

    ~JGS

  2. Alli says:

    I’ve heard of a few agents doing this everytime they open a query. If they like the voice, then they go back and read the query letter.

    When I first started writing I tried to write in a way that I thought I “should”. But the creativity dropped. Now I use my natural voice all the way through but do go back and pretty it up on the last draft. As I write novels that have a contemporary story running parallel with ancient historical, I do need two distinctive voices. Luckily I find both relatively easy to write.

  3. Tamara says:

    Usually I don’t know my narrator very well when I write a first draft. A few drafts in, I learn more about the character and how they think, and that’s when I change the voice in the manuscript to match it. It’s a slow process, but it’s worth it when it works.

  4. Usually by the time I sit down to start a novel, I’ve “lived” with the main characters enough in my head to have an idea about the voice, although it may shift (and usually does) as the narrative unfolds. I’d have to say that in my latest completed novel, I don’t think that the voice has changed at all from when I first started it. On the other hand, a good critique partner commenting on a previous work several years ago shared some observations that had me rewriting from the beginning, and remembering her advice for future work.

  5. Becky Levine says:

    For me, it’s one of the reasons I write in first person–it just helps me get closer to my narrator. The other thing I do is continually try to push myself to extremes–feelings, details, dialogue. At least what feel like extremes as I write–I think we’re afraid and timid and if we don’t do this, we end up writing bland and “authorially.”

    My critique group has an ongoing premise–we will tell each other if/when one of us has gone too far. I’m not sure it’s happened yet. :)

  6. Denise says:

    I feel like my main character is in my head, as I’m sure many other authors can understand. That helps me to keep their voice straight. It does take many rounds of editing to perfect it, though.

  7. Mare says:

    I write, then go back and question — *a lot.* Especially the query. Can I just say, I hate writing queries? I love that you just jump into the writing.

    Because I’ve spent all this time and energy writing my book — which I love — but it just feels like a whole ‘nother WORLD of pressure with the query:

    “I have to personalize! I have to make this person like me! I have to show I know something about him/her/the agency but also be brief, witty, engaging, and let them know what my book is about and that I have a huge platform to sell it on! All in 1 page! Yikes!”

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