Voice vs. Literary Laryngitis

Under the category of “writing,” I hoped to put together some awesome advice. Alas, my hopes are dashed, my dreams obliterated.


Advice has been a treacherous path for me, both given and received. I’ve seen wonderful stories never reach the light of day. I do not want to see that happen to you.

Let me explain…

When all is said and done, your voice is what counts.

Before you ask the question that takes you down a fateful path–“What makes a bestseller?”–let me tell you how I went numb and dumb.

The first draft is a delight to write. Your creative juices are flowing, you’re free to word it any way you want. All you’re trying to do is get the story down.

Then comes revision. Not so bad.

But, now, you’re up to the tiny details, people are reading it, giving opinions, you’re using software that underlines things… It’s like being nagged. Even as I write this, my writing aid program is correcting me, telling me I forgot an article, misspelled a word, need a comma. Arghhh! Shut up!

Then come the critiques, feedback, editing tips, requests for rewrite and revisions. “This chapter isn’t necessary,” “I was thrown out of the story here,” “I don’t think your character would say that.”

At a certain point, I closed my laptop and went out back, sat on my porch swing and watched the lizards crawl on the back wall, flirting with each other. They do that funny push up thing…


What is voice?

It’s you and the way you tell a story.

When someone hears a Michael Jackson song, they have no doubt who’s singing. Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley made Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby take a back row seat. You may be saying “Who?” but they were the top sellers of the time.

Do you know why?

First and foremost, they were original.

The first time Elvis Presley performed on TV (The Ed Sullivan Show September 9, 1956) it was shocking. After Elvis’s wiggly legs embarrassed everyone (except his screaming fans), the censors decided to keep the cameras above his waist during his second appearance. It’s mild for kids today, but back then, it earned him the nickname “Elvis the Pelvis.”

When Michael Jackson sang “Billie Jean” and moonwalked across the stage the first time, the crowd went wild. They knew the song from the first two notes and jumped to their feet.

It wasn’t that we hadn’t seen and heard someone do these things before. But Elvis and Michael had formed a unique personal combination, their own style.  They did what they loved, what energized them, then put it all together, tried it out on audiences, and perfected it through feedback.

As performers, they got the desired response from the audience.

And that’s what a writer has to do with a reader.

My favorite author, Charles Dickens, had a motto:

“Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait.”

If you write suspense, horror, or thrillers, you might have a motto of “Make them love, make them worry, make them scream.”

Whatever your motto, create an effect on your reader with your own voice.

With all the rules–grammar, punctuation, point of view, show-don’t-tell, ad nauseam–none of them take precedence over voice. You do need the rules as a means to create the effect. But, whatever you do, don’t sacrifice your style to please an editor, agent, or publisher.

The moment you take on someone else’s style, you lose your voice.

Be original, be you.

After all, it’s YOUR story.

I’d love to hear your opinions and feedback on this. Please leave your comment. Please use the form below.