Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Reflections on the Voice Workshop at Brenda's Place.

Hey, sweet readers!

Last week, I was super honored to be asked to participate as a critiquer for the entries in That Doggone Voice Workshop over at author and contest-thrower extraordinaire Brenda Drake's blog.

She asked me to write up some reflections on my experience, and I thought I'd post them on my blog so that anyone else who was interested might like to read. (You can read my fellow critiquer Becca's reflections here.)

Brenda ran this workshop because Voice is just SO difficult to grab a hold of and wrestle into a book. And as hard as it is, it's that much more difficult in just the first 250 words of a novel. Writers have to ground the reader in the story's world, tell us something about the main character, give us a story hook, entice us to turn the page, AND establish voice. 

We seriously lucked out with the entries in this contest. They were all great! From a random entry picker, it's like a miracle that every single writer was so talented. Wow. 

So, well done, all of you.

Confession time: I realized while I was writing this recap that I actually have no solid advice on a surefire way to establish voice in your writing, because all I've ever done is listen to my characters and write down what they said. But then I realized that that's really not such bad advice. Look, you've done the hard work of dreaming up this story and characters to go with it. Trust those characters that they know how to tell their own story. 

A lot of the snags I hit when reading the entries had to do with the writer of the story jumping in and cutting off the Main Character.

"Wait," the writer seemed to be saying, "I don't think you know what you're doing here, Main Character. Shut up for a second and let me step in and explain to the reader the precise pink tone of that Heffalump's fur, or the exact tang of the fancy vodka you're drinking. Or even what you really meant to say when you said that one thing." 

Well, here's the thing, writers - 
With all due respect, no reader picks up a book to hear us tell our characters' stories for them. Readers crack those pages open to step into our characters' minds for a moment. So, forget about YOUR voice and let us hear THEIR voices.

Of course, during revisions we've got to comb back through and make sure our characters don't switch favorite slang words midway through the manuscript, or use words from an SAT prep course when they're a normal twelve-year old. But for most voicey stuff, my advice is simple - sit back, close your eyes, and imagine what your character would see, feel, and think. Then write that down. Again - You've done the hard work in dreaming her up - now let her do a little work for you.

Thanks again for letting me play! I had so much fun reading, and am seriously impressed by everyone's hard work!


  1. I loved this post/reflection,Leigh Ann. I agree that voice has to come with the characters and that it can't be The Author talking in their place. (And yes I've even seen this with bestselling authors too!)

    I also wanted to let you know that I borrowed your 'Friday' obsessions and made it into Thursday (if that's okay). I thought it was a neat idea!

    1. Thank you so much! To me it feels so much easier than using my own voice, you know?

  2. I'm bookmarking this post. Really needed it. I have been struggling with the beginning of my new wip for a few days now and it didn't occur to me that I should just let my MC do all the talking. Will definitely try to doing that. :)

    1. Oh, that's sweet! Yeah, obviously you have to clean it up for style and stuff sometimes, but I do think it's the easiest way. <3

  3. This is great, especially this bit: "Wait," the writer seemed to be saying, "I don't think you know what you're doing here, Main Character. Shut up for a second and let me step in."

    I find myself doing that all the time. *facepalm* I really appreciate this advice and the personal crits you gave during the workshop. Thanks for taking the time to help us out.

    1. It was my pleasure! Thanks for letting me read. You guys were the greatest. <3

  4. Honestly one of the best damn advice I hear about finding character's voice I've read so far.

    forget about YOUR voice and let us hear THEIR voices.-> truly gold.

    I'm only starting to realize this. I get this worry whether I'm doing it right, but I should let the writer voice sit back and let the characters come to life.

    1. I think maybe it feels like we're not working hard enough if we do that? I don't know, but it's the easiest way for me, at least.
      Thanks for your comment! <3

  5. How great, really good post on this topic. We want to lose ourselves in the characters, you are so right. Easy to forget as we hurry to be 'writerly' and put writerly stuff in that we shouldn't forget that characters voice!