Voice is really important to me—as a reader and as a writer.
My favourite books are ones whose narrators seem to reinvent language—CHIME, ROOFTOPPERS, THE KINGDOM OF LITTLE WOUNDS, THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS, THE BLOODY CHAMBER AND OTHER STORIES, THE HANDMAID’S TALE, THE FOLK KEEPER, THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN.
I struggle to get started with a draft until I’ve found the voice of the narrator, and my writing is often described as "voicey".
You could say that voice is something I’m obsessed with.
But what is it, really?
In the publishing world, voice is a term used by literary agents and editors to describe the quality of a writer’s prose.
They’ll say things like, “I like the concept, but the voice didn’t grab me.” Or: “I love the voice here! I’d follow this character anywhere.” (Which is actually something my literary agent said to me when I sent her an early draft of THE TURNAWAY GIRLS.) (And I love her for it.)
When you boil it down, voice is diction, rhythm, metaphor. It’s structure and sentence length and punctuation and repetition.
Voice is basically words doing what they do best.
But it’s also this ephemeral quality that a piece of writing either has or doesn’t have—a quality that makes you want to keep reading, that connects deeply to your soul, that makes you go, “I can’t get enough of this!”
It's because of this that I think the idea of voice can be extended.
Voice isn't just how you write.
It's who you are.
This work happens off the page.
It starts with this: your life is argument for something. If there’s no argument in your life, there won’t be any argument in your writing. And by argument I mean: energy, drive, forward-motion.
If you don’t yet know what your life is an argument for, that’s okay. Here are some questions to get you started:
What do I have nightmares about?
What’s my deepest fear?
What makes me angry?
What do I love?
Who do I love?
What am I willing to fight for?
What problem in the world do I want to solve?
What is my most painful memory?
You’ll often hear writers say, “Write what you’re afraid of,” or, “Write the book that won’t leave you alone.” And I completely agree.
Here’s why: if you’re afraid of a project or you can’t stop thinking about a project, it’s more likely to be connected with themes, ideas and characters you care about. It's as simple (and as complicated) as that.
I would say that about 90% of voice is being true to yourself. The rest is craft and that can be learnt—through reading a lot and writing a lot, to put it simply—but the real work of voice starts away from your laptop or notebook.
It’s starts with living.
It’s starts with knowing yourself.