Saturday, January 21, 2012

What is Voice? by Ryder Islington



Mystery writer, Ryder Islington, has created a memorable protagonist. Trey Fontaine spoke to her, and thank goodness, Ryder listened: the result, her first novel, Ultimate Justice.
Ultimate Justice, A Trey Fontaine Mystery is receiving rave reviews from readers.  http://www.ll-publications.com/ultimatejustice.html

The small town of Raven Bayou, Louisiana explodes as old money meets racial tension, and tortured children turn the table on abusive men. FBI Special Agent Trey Fontaine returns home to find the town turned upside down with mutilated bodies. Working with local homicide detectives, Trey is determined to get to the  truth. A believer in empirical evidence, Trey ignores his instincts until he stares into the face of the impossible, and has to choose between what he wants to believe and the ugly truth.
A graduate of the University of California and former officer for a large sheriff’s department, RYDER ISLINGTON is now retired and doing what she loves: reading, writing, and gardening. She lives in Louisiana with her family, including a very large English Chocolate Lab, a very small Chinese pug, and a houseful of demanding cats. She can be contacted at RyderIslington@yahoo.com or visit her blog at 
http://ryderislington.wordpress.com

Read what Ryder has to say about What is Voice?


When I first started writing with an aim toward publication, I read and heard about ‘keeping your voice.’ No one ever explained what that meant. I needed someone to dumb it down for me. I just didn’t get it. It took a long time before someone finally explained it in a way that made sense to me.

Voice is more than how the writer interprets her story. It includes word choice, sentence structure, description, style, and so much more. Voice is why ten authors can write on the same subject and create ten different stories. Voice is why one history teacher is considered boring and while another is entertaining.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of mystery authors, and many have a following of avid readers. It’s the author’s voice the readers are following. Developing your own voice and keeping it, is essential to becoming a successful author.

When my debut novel, Ultimate Justice, A Trey Fontaine Mystery, went through the editing process with the publishing company, voice was the one thing the editor and I agreed on. Unless I made a grammatical error, sentences weren’t changed. Unless I had a plot problem, story was not changed. The editor worked with me to keep my voice. If something needed to be changed, it was my job to choose the words, narrative, dialogue, etc. Even the amount of white space on a page contributes to voice.

I like to write short paragraphs. Yes, it uses more paper, or space, but I’ve found that when I’m reading for pleasure, I’ll read a lot more in one setting if the paragraphs are short. I can take in the information easily, and I always have time for one more paragraphs. Or two. This is part of my style, and therefore part of my voice.

When I go to critique group, suggestions are made for how to fix problems. I take those suggestions home, and determine if there is a problem, and if there is, how I can best revise in my own words. Voice gets more distinctive over time. By the time you’ve written a million words, you can easily see your voice in your work, if you’re looking for it.

One thing that builds voice is developing vocabulary. I don’t mean learning big words when small ones will do, but finding different words that will avoid repetition and still maintain your voice. Do you use metaphors? Or Similes? Do you prefer on over the other? Do you avoid questions in narrative? Use colons and semi-colons? (I hardly ever use colons or semi-colons in fiction). Do you usually use beats instead of tags in dialogue? Read through your works and ask questions like these. Your favorite themes, your choice of punctuation and sentence length, every decision you make as you write, is about voice. Losing your voice is as devastating to a writer as an opera star. Don’t let anyone take it from you. Maintain voice at all costs. It’s what makes you unique. 

2 comments:

  1. When I published my first novel, I had a friend say to me, "It sounds just like you. It's like you're telling me the story." At first, I didn't know what to think--was that a slam? a compliment? Was I not writing "writerly" enough? Now I realize my own voice is part of my author voice, and since I write in first-person it's important to maintain what sounds true to my own ear. The tough thing for me is to make sure my supporting characters (especially my male characters) have their own voices, and don't sound like "mini-me's" in their dialogue with the main character.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I know what you mean, JoAnn. It's difficult to separate ourselves from our characters. I write two series and the protagonists are very different, but each contains elements of their creator.

    ReplyDelete