As an author, understanding voice is critically important to the writing process. What's that mean, exactly? Let's start with an example. We'll use Stephen King since everyone knows who he is. If someone gave you a chapter or two from a Stephen King book, but didn't tell you who the author was, do you think you could tell? If you have read Stephen King in the past, I think you would be able to tell right away.
So why is that? The easy answer would be to say the chapters felt creepy and who is better known for being creepy than Mr. King. But, let's take away the storyline and just look at the writing, because the writing is as much Stephen King's voice as the story. The Gunslinger has a far different theme (fantasy) than Carrie (horror), but is still easily recognizable as a Stephen King book. Beyond the easy answer, it's more about how he describes things, the flow of his words, the turning of a big world into something smaller and more intimate to the reader. It's in the punch he gives at just the right instant. There's probably a thousand more subtle reasons that Mr. King's prose is uniquely his own, but these are what immediately come to mind.
It is the same for every author. There are so many intricacies in what makes each author's voice different that I could never list them all here. Sometimes, it's in their ability at sounding honest in their telling of the story, when you simply believe whatever fantastic tale you are reading. Other times, it's in their ability to bring you into the action, or make you fall in love with their characters. Like Stephen King, maybe they can make the biggest world seem so small and familiar. Or just the opposite. Maybe the author can make a small story seem immense and worldly. A small-town girl with a secret that will end all mankind.
I tell you this because I realize I have my own style, my own voice. Some might see aspects of my voice as weaknesses while others may see them as strengths. When I tell a story, I try to tell you what happens in an interesting way and then move onto the next scene. In doing so, I am relying on the reader loving the story more than the technical aspects of my prose. I hope when you finish you say, "That was an awesome read."
Again, some see that as a weakness, because I didn't describe a room down to an apple sitting precariously on a table. Yet, it is very common for some readers to compliment me on how fast my stories flow while other readers complain that I didn't give them enough little details for them to picture that room with the apple.
Hey, I get it, but my writing comes partly from how I like to read. Sometimes, while I'm enjoying a barn-burner of a book and I come to a paragraph that describes that apple on the table, regardless of how interestingly the author described that apple, I find myself skimming to the next paragraph. That's in no way to denigrate that author's description of the apple, because I actually admire how he or she can make describing a simple apple entertaining. I just personally want to keep moving along.
I've put widely acclaimed books down on the basis that I couldn't get into the author's voice. They were probably brilliant books, but they didn't reach me in how they sounded in my mind. Let me ask you, could you sit down and read an entire Shakespeare play? Maybe yes, maybe no. If not, does that mean Shakespeare was a poor writer? Obviously nobody would argue that. Shakespeare had a wonderful insight into the human state, the human psyche. Or take The Lord of the Rings. It is one of the greatest stories ever told, but it can be difficult to read and that turns some people off.
I bring up all of this voice stuff to show you how an author's voice isn't much different than how your own voice as a reader affects the story. Or, more specifically, how you prefer the voice to sound in your head when you read the book. You know, how a choppy, action-packed style might not mesh with your desire to take it slow and steady. Or if you want to know that a minor character's face is weathered from too much sun and the author doesn't tell you, instead glossing over that particular character's description to keep the story moving.
Well, you may feel shorted. It may make you feel like the author didn't bring you into his or her world enough and you may put down the book. Heck, it may even make you mad enough to give the book a negative review somewhere because the voice you wanted to hear didn't match the voice you actually heard. That doesn't make you wrong for not liking the book and it doesn't make the author wrong for writing the story how he or she wrote it. That author's story might be the best story of the century, but the story-telling didn't speak to you as a reader and, therefore, it failed in your eyes.
What I'm trying to convey is that every author has a unique way of telling a story, and every reader has a unique response to how that story was told. In my werewolf book, Tamed, some readers have criticized the speed in which my two main characters fell in love. Those readers are right in their criticism if that is what took them out of the story. But my characters' love story moved fast for a reason. The entire book, by design, moves at a frantic pace and, though I could have better fleshed out the love story aspect of it, I made a decision to not slow down the feel and pace of the book to do so. Other readers complimented how the story flowed and saw no issues with the love story. While writing, it sometimes feels like I am taking a crap-shoot on decisions that may or may not be liked by readers. That is why it is critically important that I tell the story how I see it and don't try to please every possible reader. My story would become watered down and bland if I did that, because it would kill my voice.
The better an author gets at evolving and refining his or her voice, the likelihood of readers walking away disappointed shrinks a bit and the more fans that author will gain. But as an author evolves, he or she has to be careful not to lose that personal expression--that unique voice--in the process. I would never tell an author to change his or her voice any more than I would tell a reader to simply try harder to like something. I can only hope that when you try my work one day, my voice speaks to your voice in a positive way. But if it doesn't, no story I tell can bridge that gap. But I promise I'll keep trying to evolve while keeping my voice at the same time. I hope you continue to give my work a try.
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