Voice vs. Literary Laryngitis

Under the category of “writing,” I hoped to put together some awesome advice.

Advice has been a treacherous path for me, both given and received. I’ve seen wonderful stories never reach the light of day, destroyed by lack of voice. 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 editing 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 with your very unique personality shining through, your specific viewpoint and way of telling.

When someone hears a Michael Jackson song, they have no doubt who’s singing it. 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.

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. You think, but if I tell it my way, how do I know people will like it? Hey, there are over 400 million native English speaking people out there and some of them read books. Maybe a few thousand of them agree with the way you tell a story?

How to find your readers is a subject for a different article. Right now, trust me, if you write in your own voice and don’t carbon copy someone else, you’ve won a tough battle that will separate you from the crowd.

What should you concentrate on? Telling an entertaining story might be nice.

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 you can pay an editor to help you with that. 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.

2 thoughts on “Voice vs. Literary Laryngitis

  1. I could hardly agree with you more, you hit the nail on the head.

    “The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it’s considered to be your style.” (Fred Astaire)

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