Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Voice

 I've been watching The Voice recently and before you scoff may I just say that it was purely due to research (and my love of tacky talent shows of course - sssh, don't tell anyone).
 The fascinating part of the program is that despite all of the contestants being good singers, whether the judges turned round for them depended entirely on their personal taste. Some singers appealed to everyone, some to no one and others to one or two of the judges. The thing is that no matter how much skill you show, how much work you put in, how talented you are or how desperately you want it, the opinions of others are not yours to control. Of course this is true for all creative pursuits. Whether you sing, paint, dance,cook, draw or indeed, write, the opinion of others is always subjective.

 One of the things agents and publishers are always asking for is "Voice". They want a great voice, a distinctive voice, a strong voice but as far as I can tell Voice is one of the most subjective parts of writing and therefore one of the hardest things to do.
 I can understand entirely why they want it however because it's hugely important to me in my own reading. All my favourite books have a fantastic voice that grabs me and pulls me in and makes the character and their world entirely real.

 The Twilight series worked for me not because of the vampire/werewolf romance but because I loved Bella's voice.
 Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger games trilogy again had a marvelous voice that blended perfectly with the chilling world of Panam.
 Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner creates a stunning yet terrifying world with the simple, understated voice of Standish.

All of these examples are in a  first person narrative which is what I use and can be very hard to capture. I think it's one of the most difficult things we do as writers but while we all try to find a great voice that everyone likes, perhaps that's just not possible. Just as we all make snap judgments about people when we meet them, so do we when we read the first page of a book. It can be that quick - like/don't like. Read/ don't read. Sometimes of course it might be more of a - okay, give it a try, type of reaction but is that good enough?

 In my own writing I have found that voices can be a bit like Marmite.
 The ones that hate the voice will not want to read it at all, despite the great plot or strong characters which can feel harsh.
 But the ones that love it, really love it and sometimes enough to take a chance on it even if there are problems.

 But can we manufacture that? Can we sit down and decide on the perfect voice? Or is it a bit like magic? A voice that whispers in our ear, a vision from a dream, an idea like a bolt from the blue?
 Maybe, who knows?
 Finding the perfect voice can be just as hard as finding the person who will love it enough to take a chance.
 And yet we keep striving because you never know, maybe that voice or that person is just around the corner.


  1. I don't know - I wish I did?! I feel the more I write, the more confident and comforatble I feel with what and how I write it - whetehr that will appeal to anyone other than my agent and mysefl, who knows? I don't think you can manufacture it, I think it's part of you, comes form the deepest part of you...I think you have to mine for it ;o)

    1. Off to get my pickaxe now ;)
      Seriously though it is what we all struggle with, the eternal question of will anyone actually like what I'm writing and for me - will I ever manage to get ALL the parts right at the right time for the right person??

  2. My typing doesn't improve though!

  3. I think Kathy's right about mining. 'Voice' comes from the depths, deeply understanding what it means to be that character, channelling their emotions, empathising so completely with their situation, you can feel it too. It's like an actor getting into character to BE another person. I think that gets something of the raw voice, our craft refines it.
    And yes, Lorraine, it is like singing - really singing, the sound you make relies on how you use your whole self - the Voice judges are always talking about emotion too and whether or not they believe what a person's singing ( I like some trash talent shows too!)
    Also, you're absolutely right that it's still subjective though.

    1. Hi Jan, my singing is terrible unfortunately but I think my writing is getting better...slowly! Disappearing into character is one of my favourite things but the problem is that you then get quite attached to them and the idea that someone else won't like them is horrible!

  4. For me, voice is a cumulative thing: You -> How You Write -> How You Write About the Protagonist. You can't change who you are, but at the other two steps you can tweak things to suit the book - that's where your skill as a writer comes in.

    1. It definitely is a skill Nick and almost, I think, one that can't be taught but comes with experience and work and maybe a bit of luck?