Those of you who have been hanging around this blog for a while may know that I became a fiction writer somewhat by accident. Back in the 90’s, I started writing Nancy Drew mysteries when a college buddy-turned-editor invited me to submit a story proposal for the series. When my editor friend moved on in her career, I stopped writing. I remember having vague notions back then about trying to write a manuscript on my own, but the idea seemed too intimidating. Without my editor friend as a Spirit Guide, I was at sea.
In 2003, I got RIF’ed from my job as a corporate writer. In retrospect, being laid off was the best thing that could have happened. With the blessing of a supportive spouse, I used my copious spare time to write the manuscript I’d been dreaming about.
I had a main character in mind for my story and a rough outline, but I struggled to find a “voice.” Writing in the Nancy Drew voice had been relatively easy, because Nancy already had a voice. My first attempts at finding my own voice failed miserably. Everything I produced sounded dry and flat, like it had been written by the journalist I once was. My main character came across as angry and slightly bitter. Completely unappealing.
For inspiration I started binge reading mysteries. Like Ariel’s song in The Little Mermaid, I hoped to hear a voice that would rescue me from the sea. One day I pulled a mass market mystery off the shelf and started skimming. This book sounded different, I discovered. It sounded funny. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just discovered the world of cozy mysteries and “chick lit”.
I can write like that, I remember thinking. From that moment on, writing in a brand new voice flowed smoothly. My character Kate became a little bit like Nancy Drew, if Nancy had gained weight and developed a potty mouth.
Nowadays I still struggle to find the right voice for any new project. The first time I tried to write something darker than a cozy mystery, I floundered around again in search of a new “sound” for the narrator.
I wonder if developing or changing voices is as much of a challenge for other writers as it is for me. Please share your experience in the Comments.