Monday, July 16, 2007

Come on, Baby. . .

So I'm driving in my car with my radio on, and this country-Western song comes on that makes me roll up the windows and crank it up.

Come on baby, give me a little more of you. . .

It rocks. And it speaks to the writer in me. I have myself a country-Western epiphany: that's what readers and editors want from us writers. Come on baby, give me a little more of you. . .

Exactly! Why, it's the very definition of what we call "voice." A little more of you. You, the writer. I, the writer. We, the writers. It's a huge part of what hoists books into publication and then onto best-seller lists. It's part of what makes Jane Austen and Louie L'Amour so well loved. Voice. Loud and clear, whether in a proper English village or a rough country town. It's distinctive and unmistakeable, like your baby's cry. You'd know it anywhere. Nobody else could write Robert B. Parker or Sue Grafton, because only those two writers have their particular voices. Voice is personality, strength, confidence--even when it's "voiced" in a shy character who doesn't seem to have any of those qualities. Voice is the author behind the scenes-- unabashed, unshy, unwilling to shut up and pretend to be who he is not, or to write what she is not. Voice is also what makes some blogs so popular. And leaders so followed. It has no moral quality, only a tonal one.

I learned a big lesson in voice when I wrote three novels for the estate of an author who had died. (Don't you just hate that, when a favorite author dies? How dare they?) While I could mimic her voice to some degree, the books I did in her series were really me doing ventriloquism, instead of her writing in the pureness of her own voice, or me in the whatever of mine. And it was really hard work, harder than I dreamed it would be. To get the first one of them finished, I wrote two different versions, which is to say--two books for the price of one. The problem with the first failed version was that I was trying too hard to be her, instead of me. When I surrendered to that truth, and wrote it my way, it worked better.

By the way, the movie I was on my way to see when I heard that song (Who IS that singer?) was the new Harry Potter. Talk about voice! J.K. Rowling got voice. :)

Hmm, it appears that I'm still talking about "letting go," aren't I?

And a happy start of a new week to you. May you crank it up. May you speak with your voice that nobody else in the whole history of the world could ever speak with instead of you. May you write, live, and laugh like a whole English village is running after you with pitchforks on one side, and the posse from Butch Cassidy and the Sunday Kid is chasing you on the other side. ("Who ARE those guys?")

WAHOOO!!!


33 comments:

Nancy P said...

You know all those blogs in my blogroll? Every one of them has "Voice." I have only actually met a couple of those people in real life, but I can picture them and "hear" them. They probably look nothing like the image in my head, or sound like that, either, but as an author I can tell you that doesn't matter. They're alive to me, that's the point.

Some of you will remember a blogger named Ductape. Now there was a Voice,lol. Sometimes we wondered if he was a person or a persona, but that didn't matter to me, either. Whether it was the real "Ductape" or a fictional one, the author spoke with Voice.

Catharine said...

Hi Nancy, I still hear Ductape's Voice in my head. When I write about certain topics at Eat4Today, I know exactly the sentence that would draw him out, if he was still around.

Now that it's been over a year since he visited E4T, I'm hoping he was a persona. And that he's still posting in some other form somewhere.

Because then there's a chance I could stumble across him again.

Nancy P said...

When I write about certain topics at Eat4Today, I know exactly the sentence that would draw him out, if he was still around.

That is a rather brilliant way of perceiving it, m'dear.

Kelly McCullough said...

Smart stuff, I'll post a link to it over at Wyrdsmiths.

Nancy P said...

Why thank you, kind Kelly. And may all your waiting end well this week. :)

Kelly McCullough said...

You're most welcome.

I don't think voice gets anywhere near enough attention, and too often the attention it gets is of the wrong sort. A few years ago I was appalled to discover that quite a few English professors discourage strong voice in their students. I was telling one of my mentees that I felt that her first novel had a really strong voice, and she (an English professor herself) was initially distressed because she took it as fairly harsh criticism. We eventually got it all straightened out, but I want to track down the people who told her that and have some very firm words with them.

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Ah, the elusive voice, that ineffable thing I'm still trying to find somewhere! Sometimes I think my flowers have more of one than I do, but they do reveal things to me in funny ways that I try to capture somehow, the best I can.

We haven't seen the new Harry Potter movie yet, but are looking forward to it ... and the book should be landing on our doorstep on Saturday and Fernymoss is already itching to get his grubby paws on it, lol.

Oh, of all the very strong literary voices I've known over the years, the one who came to mind as immediately identifiable was Louis-Ferdinand Celine, a French novelist of the 30s-60s. He's the one who got me using all these ellipses years ago ... so you can blame him if it bothers you!

Nancy P said...

Kelly, that's appalling! When you track down those teachers, speak in your firmest VOICE!

Jeez, that makes me want to crack some heads. Discouraging voice! Don't be themselves in their writing, in other words. Don't use their writing to FIND themselves. Be somebody their teacher likes better. Grrr. They're like critics who review the book you didn't write.

I tell beginning writers. . .If you ever encounter somebody who makes you feel like not writing, run like hell in the opposite direction. Hard to do in a classroom, but you can do it in your stubborn head, and when you finally get out of that hellhole, you can go back to writing and being yourself.

AndiF said...

The voice in my head is witty, insightful, and delightful; the one that comes out of my mouth and off my fingertips seems to be absolutely indifferent to all that brilliance so close by.

Nancy P said...

I dunno, IVG, I "hear" you more and more clearly with everything of yours that I read. I actually think you have quite a strong voice with lots of personality. (Are you blushing like a rose, lol?)

But I really love your idea that flowers have strong voices. They do! They do! I totally agree, as do all the critters and flower, cause they're so "full of themselves." There's a good reason why so many of the Sages tell us to be like the mustard seed, or the flowers in the fields, or whatever.

Nancy P said...

Well, see, Andi, that's because you're not reading you through our eyes. We're seeing the Voice that's in your head. Which should come as a relief to you. :)

Your photos have a VERY strong voice, btw. And speaking of which, is it okay if I front page them now and again as I did Saturday night?

Nancy P said...

Musing. . .

Of course, it helps--from a "sales" point of view--if the voice is likeable. I know of voices in the blogworld, and in fiction, that I can't bear to read. I see their names and turn away, because I don't like those voices. Grating personality. Or whatever it is that annoys me, and might not annoy somebody else. I could name names. :) But then I know that everybody's voice annoys somebody at some time.

Applies to artists, photographers, musicians, etc., too, of course. The Beatles had both voices and a Voice.

Kelly McCullough said...

Yes, heads will definitely be cracked should I ever get the opportunity on that one. The argument, inasmuch as I could understand it through all the tooth grinding, was that the author should be invisible, subsuming their voice to the needs of the story. Which is, of course, very bad advice.

Yes the author needs to find the voice of the story, but it needs to be from within and to be their own voice as well. I write in a fairly broad set of styles from farce, through satire, to genuine darkness, but I've been told that anyone who's ever heard me speaking for fifteen minutes will be able to find the common thread of that personal spoken voice informing everything I do.

Andi, you may not hear or see that voice in what comes out of your fingertips, but I certainly do. Yours is one of the voices I very much missed when life and deadlines forced me to mostly stop hanging out in the Froggy Bottom. Sometimes it's hardest for us to hear ourselves in what we say and write.

Nancy P said...

Kelly, do you think they're confusing Voice with "letting the characters/story take off"? Gotta have both. To get a good piece of work, we can't have one without the other.

It sounds as if they've never written a novel. ;)

Kelly McCullough said...

Honestly, I'm not sure what they were thinking. My mentee, who is a wonderful writer and teacher, explained it to me in brief, but though she was making perfect sense, her past professors were not.

And yes, I doubt that any of them had actually written a novel, though they might have written something of book length that they called a novel.

Nancy P said...

Kelly, lol. Also, snort.

AndiF said...

It's fine with me if you front page the pics -- though I have to say I am disappointed that doing so for that one didn't get me a slew of theories about the tennis balls.

AndiF said...

Oh and on that note, here's another pic for the collection. We can caption it "Spotlighting the Voice"

Nancy P said...

Excuuuse me! Did I not surmise they were left there for your dogs?

Okay, you did say, "slew."

And, thanks.

Nancy P said...

Oh, I like that photo a lot. And the title. "Go stand there," I might tell a beginning writer. "Where we can see you."

Family Man said...

Good morning Nancy and everyone.

I'm getting a pretty late start this morning it looks like.

Yes I remember Ductape and I miss him too. He could be exasperating at times, but he could also write to where you felt you were sitting right next to him.

I guess it's the Voice that for me depends on whether I'll finish a book or not. I used to have a rule that I would give any book the first 50 pages and if it hadn't caught me by then, I would just put it down. I guess I've miss many good books by doing that, but I read more for enjoyment than anything, and if it takes a long time for me to be drawn into the book, then it's just not worth it to me.

Man Eegee said...

"Happy" Monday, everybody! The quotation marks are included with the hope that they can be removed sometime this afternoon. The morning has so far merited the speculation.

I tend to be a sarcastic, random, joking person in real life which has clashed a lot with the anger that often pours of out my fingertips when I'm writing about politics (especially the border stuff), so have been trying to reconcile those sides of my rubik's cube life. I'm finding as I balance out my writing topics with different themes, my Voz - mi Voz - is navigating its way into my posts in a stronger way.

Of course, the inspiration you all bring in your unique way is a great help, too. paz

olivia said...

Hello everyone ... hope Monday is treating you well and esp for Manny so he can remove the " " ... I've become better acquainted w/ voice as I get older. The world is more vivid when you can view it through the eyes of another ... be it w/ pencils or paint or pixels.

olivia said...

Lovely photo Andi.

AndiF said...

Nancy, I like your caption much better than mine -- just another example of why they pay you all those big bucks to be a writer.

Thanks, O.

P.S. A slew is defined as "one more than the minimum acceptable" which is set by the person demanding the slew.

Nancy P said...

Slew is such a funny word. Slew, slew, slew. Also, multi-tasking. You slew me with that word slew.

Hi, O! Handsome frog at your place today. :)

fm, I sometimes don't make it past the first few pages, but don't tell anybody. I want them to give my own books a better chance thatn that. :)

boran2 said...

Good evening all. My voice is very late today. ;-)

Nancy P said...

Hi, boran2--your voice may be late, but it's welcome. :) Goodnight AND good morning to you.

GreenMinute said...

When I write about certain topics at Eat4Today, I know exactly the sentence that would draw him out...

So interesting! Since I know nil of voice - except that distance has something to do with it -- I am more taken by the perception of someone reading or noticing what you are writing as you compose it.

Does anyone else find themselves imagining a particular person as a reader when they are writing fiction? I know we can never confess this in public. I am just curious whether I might be alone in my casual insanity.

Nancy P said...

I think maybe I do sometimes imagine a reader, greenminute. I'm gonna have to think about this. It's vague. . .maybe I can bring her (and I think also a him) into better focus. . .

Welcome back!

Catharine said...

Hi greenminute,

I think I remember that both Robertson Davies and Stephen King seem to be very attuned to Constant Reader.

Isn't Constant Reader is a character in several Robertson Davies books. And mentioned in some of Stephen King's Introductions and Magazine Articles?

Does that count?

jscs said...

I tried that line, "Come on baby, give me a little more of you," on a writer. I indeed was talking about voice, but we were in a bar and it didn't work as I'd planned. Moral of the story: That's why I don't listen to country music.

Hi Nancy... Jason Sitzes here... I sent some folks your way, but they are so shy. I bet they are only lurking.

Nancy P said...

jason!! Thank you for telling them about this place. I smile just thinking they're out there. And maybe on days when they're wearing their POS button, they can come here and feel hugged. "Beth" has de-lurked! She's a regular now,and I'm so glad. (You'll find her in today's post about velociraptors.)

lol, btw.