Finding Your Voice

I don’t watch television often, but last fall while living with the folks, I had the opportunity to watch television (both good and bad).   In a particular episode on the The Voice, one of the judges – I forget their names, made a big ol’ speech about being unique and making a song your own.  This stuck with me for a bit because the important thing for a writer is to find your voice, and make their story their own.  I thought about this for a while – how do I make the story my own and find a voice that is unique to me.  I came to the conclusion writing is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle – your voice is comprised of little bits and pieces of what you know and who you read.

When I read “Lolita” a year or so ago, I fell in love with author’s taste and feel for particular words, as if the actual letters came alive with his description. Here is the opening line, “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta” Valimir Nabokov – Lolita – published 1955 – Page one.  This descriptive is so perfect, I can move my tongue to make those taps, I can imagine an older man telling is story of his young love.  (Thanks to Jeremy Irons for his excellent narrating that masterpiece) –  The imaginative narrative of “Lolita,” gave the author a voice that would make me read more and more of his work.  I want this gift to be a part of my books.

I’ve raved about Jim Butcher – why because I like this sarcastic wit, his descriptions, and his style.  The voice of his characters and the easy flow of his writing make me more engaged as a reader.  I want to have my characters become friends of my readers, I want them to cheer for the hero when he’s met with an impossible task.

Speaking of characters, I recently read Olivia Cunnings, Sinner Series, and I’m addicted to the complex relationship between all of the characters.  I’ve learned from her writing how to give life and purpose to secondary characters, to make them unique and support the lead story.   This is something I haven’t focused on in my writing, but I’m working now to flesh out the secondary characters and enrich the story.

My all-time favorite author – Anne Rice – has the gift for over writing or being too descriptive. (I don’t not say that in a negative way at all – I believe this is a bonus)  It is her gift of describing a setting, situation, or crisis, that makes my heart race and my fingers turn pages.  I have no doubts this is a piece of my writing voice.  I love love love long narrative, description, and giving the story an ambiance uniquely my own.

I could give you a dozen more examples of things I’ve picked up from other authors, internalized and made come to life in my own work.   I can see the influence these masters have imparted with their talent, and I’m eternally grateful.  The unique blending of my own preferences as a reader gives me a voice as a writer.

How about you?  As a reader, what things do you love about a particular author’s voice?  As a writer, who has influenced you as a writer?



The Easy Way Out

As I study the craft of writing I find that I am overly sensitive to errors and mistakes.  I hear them or see them in other authors and I feel frustrated something sneaked through the cracks.  The biggest offenders are those that take the easy way out. By that I mean that something miraculously happens to get the characters out of a bad situation.

For example, I have been reading the Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher, an absolute phenomenal writer and master storyteller.  I highly recommend his books for writers because he has a true gift for description and action.  He knows how to vividly show what is happening instead of telling. I soak up his books and try to achieve what he does in my own work.  I’m part way through the series and one of the books I read marred my regard because the entire ending was filled with nothing but convenient easy ways out. I admit I had to take a break from the books because of my disappointment.  However, he’s so damn good that I picked them back up this week and have literately swallowed three more this week, and he has redeemed himself.  I forgive him for the lackluster ending of one book and have just eagerly downloaded another book.

I think as writers we eventually get stuck.  Some people have sagging middles or unresolved endings and it’s just easy to use a tried and true method to fix what is wrong.  It’s easy to have a knight standing by at the ready to save the Hero’s neck from a deathly blow.  Or to have a mysterious old man give out a clue that solves the case.  Or the divine intervention that brings someone back from the dead.  If written correctly these might work, but I find that in most circumstances they fail and ultimately destroy the story.

When I listen to agents talk they want what’s being written outside the box.  As a reader I too want the same thing.  I want to close the cover of a novel and feel as if I’ve just lived through the adventure of a lifetime.  I want to feel so deeply connected to the story that when I flip the last page I feel a traumatic sense of loss that my time with the characters is over.  As a writer, I want my readers to feel the same way.  I want them so deeply ingrained in the story that they can’t put it down for a second.  I want them literately hanging on to each page wondering how I’m going to get these two stubborn characters together, how they are going to survive when circumstances are dire with no chance of survival.  I want to give them the unexpected and untried solution.  I want them to work for the ending just as I had to when I was writing it.

When I’m crafting a story I can’t plot, so often times I don’t know how a story is going to end, or how a problem will be resolved.  When the time comes I write the solution and then I go back and ask myself if I took the easy way out.  If my answer is yes I revise and rework until I can honestly say I didn’t expect that to happen, or holy crap they survived and they did it without a miracle.

How do you feel about books that have an all too convenient ending? What cliché or tired endings have your found in books or even your own writing?  Anyone else a Dresden/Butcher fan?