I belong to a writer’s workshop, and I can’t tell you how much it’s helped me. Every week, I get to sit and listen and learn as other scribblers share their work. Often, I marvel at the power of another writer’s voice. The writing just grabs me and won’t let go.
At other times…not so much.
Sometimes, a workshop read just flops. (Dare I admit, sometimes the read is my own?) The dialogue and prose come off like a series of ‘and then this happened…and then this happened…and then the ninjas bust into the room.’
Usually, this happens when the writing lacks voice. I know. I know what you’re thinking. You’ve heard agents and editors crow about voice and you’ve read every book and blog post about the ‘rules’ of writing a good book.
But voice isn’t really about rules. It’s not about passive verbs and misplaced modifiers and too many descriptive clauses. Voice is so much deeper.
Voice is about letting the characters interpret the action, instead of reporting the events of a story.
She stepped closer and he noticed her pleasant perfume.
She moved closer, her scent was a feel good drug.
It’s about precisely choosing the words and phrases a character would use, instead of counting ‘to be’ verbs and axing adverbs.
The sound made Joe sick. His stomach knotted and trembled.
The sound made him want to puke.
It’s about tightening the lens on all the moments that matter, instead of focusing on the pattern of the exquisite Persian rug in chapter three.
Joe stood in Matt’s garage and stared at the peeling, blue gray paint on the water stained walls.
It would be too easy to steal Matt’s car.
It’s about capturing the protagonist’s stream of consciousness as he or she experiences obstacles, instead of cataloguing clichéd physical responses.
The surface was five feet away. His eyes widened with anxiety. He held his breath.
Almost there. The surface and a lungful of air were just beyond his reach.
It’s about slipping under the skin of the character and vividly recording their observations—their unique worries, dreams, fears, and recollections—as the plot thickens, instead of shuffling from one scene to the next.
The older Joe got, the more calloused his heart became. Each year, he showed less and less emotion. The foster care system toughened him up.
At nine, you stopped thinking the tooth fairy had just missed your house. Another year and it you didn’t even cry about stuff anymore. You could look forward to ten, and know once you reached the double digits, you’d stop giving a crap altogether.
It’s about choosing the right words for the story, the words that make the wizard, the bully, the prom queen or the ballerina undeniably real to the reader.
It’s about the words that feel true.