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Voice: Fake it ‘til ya Make it!

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At my first writer’s conference (SCBWI Oklahoma Spring 2014), I entered a manuscript. Much to my surprise, I was picked by an editor to come back and talk about why she liked it. I felt like a rock star that day. I submitted to another editor and an agent after the conference (the editor who liked it had a submission wait period). Basically both said my voice wasn’t unique enough. More than one professional made the same comment, so I needed to look into it. As a teacher, student for life, problem solver I do what I always do — read as much as I can, try to figure it out, and fix my manuscript. So I went to my brand new writing source (recommended at the conference): Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole.

I read that voice is one of the last things that falls into place before a writer becomes ready for publication. All right. Just one more hurdle. I got this. But I kept reading things such as, “voice is among the most enigmatic,” “voice isn’t something that happens overnight,” and “usually, you sit down at the computer one day and feel like you are grounded on firmer footing than ever before.” It didn’t seem helpful and I felt farther from my goal. My favorite was the quote included by Laurie Halse Anderson, “Take out all the parts that suck and make the rest sound natural.” Easy, no problem…psshh.

The author, Mary Kole, along with other writers, agents, and editors, say the same thing: voice isn’t easy to explain. The best thing a writer can do is read and write and the more they do the more it falls into place. I had a choice, I could continue to write and read and hope for the best or I could give up. I’m not much for the later and thankfully Mary Kole, did me a solid and included the components of voice (included at bottom). It was my starting point. I would look at each component, improve them, and fake or force my voice until it developed. Just like everything, from learning to ride a bike to hitting a baseball. At first with such things one over thinks every detail until it falls into place.

I just read, “Guide to Killer Confidence,” an article in Glamour by Mindy Kaling. She stressed similar things. Mindy earned her confidence which she says is just entitlement from working hard, really hard. She said, “Work hard, know your s***, show your s***, and then feel entitled.” Maybe just change, “then feel entitled” to “make it as an author” and it’ll apply.

Besides the components, one needs to read a lot, but not just anything. As my many coaches said, practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. It doesn’t help you to read just any books, you need to read authors with great voices. Put down the ones you aren’t feeling and take notes on the ones you love (I usually highlight unless it’s a library book). And if you didn’t care for something, take note of what bothered you, and don’t do it with your writing.

Here’s my own experience. I always thought I would only see plot first, then after another recommendation by another editor, I dissected character. I forced myself to develop and chart each person in my novel. You know what happened? I saw character first and can’t wait to start that novel. I can even hear the character’s voice in my head. By the way, as a writer, it is awesome to hear voices in your head. The same thing happened with my work that I dissected the characters for, I had almost finished up and all of a sudden I had firmer ground. I had to go back to rewrite, because I knew how it should’ve been said. My voice is strengthening. So don’t give up, fake it. Don’t stress the trip, enjoy the journey, and believe in yourself.

*The components Mary Kole mentioned were word choice (How the characters/narrator express themselves. Reader is able to tell who is speaking without a dialogue tag), imagery (how things described), syntax (sentence formation), rhythm, mood, and simplicity (Don’t over complicate, speak directly). Mary Kole also said what voice shouldn’t be and that was passive, cluttered, indirect, cliché, and old.

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3 Responses to “Voice: Fake it ‘til ya Make it!”

  1. Shaelyn Berg says:

    Great post, Jessica! I’m constantly trying to define my author voice in my PB manuscripts. I loved the quote you included from Mindy Kaling. In just that one sentence I heard her distinctive voice. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  2. Sheree says:

    Jessica, I enjoyed reading your article on voice. It is difficult to understand exactly what the “voice” of a character is. Thank you for making it clear for me. Keep on faking it and you will make it!

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