I Don’t Have an Amazing Nineties Voice

I haven’t done karaoke since before everyone had a tiny video camera in their pocket at all times. I think this is a good thing.

Click here or on the graphic above for the Your Face Is Crooked podcast episode about my first and last times…which were my only times.

What Bette Midler, Julie Andrews, Adele, Celine Dion, Bernadette Peters, and a Bunch of Other Divas Can Teach Novelists about Voice

A Facebook friend clued me into this great comic work that I want to in turn share with you. In it, Christina Bianco sings Total Eclipse of the Heart as more than a dozen different divas, most of which you will know if you’ve been listening (even accidentally) to the radio during the past few decades. Watch the video and then let’s continue with our discussion below.

You did watch it right? To the end? Don’t cheat!

Okay. It doesn’t take a very big leap to apply this fantastically fun video to writing fiction, does it? The same song sung in many different voices.

In your current WIP, are you purposefully cultivating a compelling voice? One that will be recognized? One that is unique? Or has voice slipped your mind as you focus on plot or making sure you don’t mix tenses?

Voice is one of the main elements of fiction that is nearly impossible to define or teach, but every agent and editor out there says they are looking for what? A strong voice. A unique voice.

Voice changes the reader’s experience of the book. With my first completed novel manuscript, the voice was originally fairly flat and matter-of-fact, which was purposeful as I wrote the first draft. But upon revising many times, I realized that the least interesting and least fully realized character in the entire story was my protagonist. Everyone else was alive. She was dead. Problem? POV and voice.

So I changed from 3rd person POV to 1st person POV, and as I made that change, the voice followed. A detached voice turned into the voice of someone who was easier to relate to, who had believable reactions to things, who questioned her own motives and choices, who was thoughtful and introspective, but who invited the reader into her world.

Same story, different voice.

Next time you read through your manuscript, pay attention to the voice. Are you coming across the way you really want to? Is the voice drawing the reader in or keeping him at arm’s length? Is the voice honest or tricky? Above all, whatever voice you develop, is it consistent?

Because while it’s fun to watch a six minute YouTube video with twenty different voices, no reader wants to be jerked around like that.

Yes, That Really Is Your Voice

Not so very long ago there were these things called tape recorders. Many of you who are older than thirty probably remember these devices. And I’d wager that most of you remember listening to your recorded voice at one time or another and thinking, “That’s what I sound like?”

I’m not sure this is a pleasant experience for anyone. It’s definitely worse if you hear yourself singing–those church or school performances you thought you’d nailed but then CRINGE, oh, that was most certainly not the right note right there. Or there.

In our own heads we sound one way, but the world at large experiences us in a different way. And if you’re going by numbers, the world has you beat about 7,000,000,000 to 1.

The same is true with our writing, I believe. To me, certain sentences may sound lyrical and fraught with meaning, while to another they may sound clunky and trite. The opposite is also true. At times we write things that sound common to us and yet they may strike another in such a profound way that they print them up and tack them to their wall or put them on their refrigerator as a reminder.

Here’s what I think you should do with this little observation:

If you’re going about blithely assuming everyone reads your writing the way you do, the way you intended, take some time to examine it from another’s perspective. Are there ways you could make your meaning more clear? Are there ways you are closing off access inadvertently? Are you talking down to people? Are you assuming your reader is more knowledgeable about your subject than they actually are? How can you try to make others hear your voice as you do?

Conversely, if you can’t even bear to share your work with others for fear that they will see you for the hack you are, can you step out in courage and faith and let a few friends read your work? Isn’t it possible that you don’t sound as bad as you think?

I have a number of kind “no thank yous” filed away that tell me that not everyone reads my writing the way I intend it to be read. I can let that bother me, let it beat me down until I give up. Or I can learn from them. I can work to fix the fixable things so that my writing is read by another they same way it came out of my head in the first place.

Remember, perception is reality…except when it isn’t.