Friday, August 20, 2010

Voice: The Great Mystery

Whenever I ask any of my left-brained friends (you know, accountants, engineers, doctors. I like to refer to them as LBF's...)why they hated English in school they almost always say the same thing. It's too subjective-- not formulaic enough. In math, there's one right answer and all the other answers are wrong. It's like being organized. Like, say, with your car keys. If your keys are always in one spot, then you always know where to find them, right?

But what if the key isn't there one day? What if the one answer is actually wrong?Then what do you do?

That's why I like to write. I want choices. It's also why I keep my keys in lots of places (sometimes on a hook by the door, sometimes in my purse. Occasionally on the table...). So if I go to the hook and they're not there, I don't have to despair. I still have lots of other possible places to look. There are lots of right answers.

Some people call this disorganized (and when I say some people, I mean my husband and my mother). But I call it options.

However, I think I finally comprehend what the LFB's are talking about. I've found an aspect of writing that is very hard for me to grasp. A stumbling block. A mystery.

It's "voice."

And why is this so hard for me? Well, to be honest, I'm not always sure what it is. It seems so subjective, so difficult to define (I know, I know, spoken just like an LBF).

In one of the last conferences I went to, every agent and editor said the number one thing they look for is "voice." (Yes, that means over writing ability, over plot, over pacing-- although I'm sure these all contribute to the voice of a book). When someone asked what "voice" meant, though, not a single agent could give a concrete answer. "It's instinctive," they'd say, or my personal favorite, "that indefinable quality that a good writer has. It can't be taught, it just has to be learned."

Uh... what?

One of my friends at the conference said, "voice is just the word they use when they don't know what else to say." (That was especially helpful.)

So, I guess I'll just keep writing until I uncover the mystery. I've already completed one manuscript, and I'm halfway through another, and I've already learned some things. First, I'm not a good fit for YA. I'm simply not edgy enough. I don't feel that angst that teenagers feel (and when I do, I run away from it... fast). I also know I love fantasy, but I'm not big on flowery language. And I like dry humor.

I'm not sure that I've mastered all this in my writing yet, but that's got to be some kind of progress. Right? I'm definitely making headway.


I still wouldn't complain if any of you know a good book on voice, though...

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