(Surprise! I made a switch of a post date with James Scott Bell. He took my Thursday, July 16, and I swapped him for his usual Sunday. Who can say “No” to Jim, seriously?)
I made the change from crime fiction thrillers to young adult (and back) because I had a niece who wanted to be a writer and I included her in on my process while I wrote my first YA – IN THE ARMS OF STONE ANGELS (Harlequin Teen). We had fun together. I flew her from Texas and we spent a long weekend visiting the locals sights I wanted to use for the story, taking photos. I also worked with her to come up with character images and names and we plotted the first 8 chapters.
The sixteen year old character (Brenna Nash) had been born in my head while I wrote the Prologue. It should have felt like a drastic change in voice (from adult to teen), yet I made the leap with only one real foundation in crime fiction to connect my stories. I had deliberately chosen to make my first YA a cold case mystery so I could tie into my reader base. I didn’t analyze this change in genre, but I’ve been thinking of VOICE lately and wanted to break it down.
If you are a new author trying to find your way, or a more experienced writer who would like to venture into a new genre, I hope this post gets you thinking.
Keys Ways to Establish Your Own Voice Yet Stay Flexible Across Genres
1.) Ask Yourself: What is my natural voice? Answer this question on your own, but then ask those closest to you how they see you. Are you naturally cynical? Are you great with the one liners? Or are you quieter with good timing for well-timed jabs?
Exercise: Describe Yourself in Three Adjectives (Snarky, Fun, Flirty) Then ask: Is this how I talk?
2.) What books have you enjoyed in the genre you are interested in writing? I’m not just talking about reading a book and liking it. I’m suggesting you analyze exactly why you liked it. I’m talking notes in the margins and highlighted lines of dialogue or imagery you liked. Understanding your taste will help you define what comes naturally to you. You are drawn to author voices you like and hope to write yourself.
Exercise: Picture your ideal reader. If you can describe him or her, then write to your reader as if you were one on one. Does this make your voice easier to develop?
3.) Can you hear the central character in your head? Can you resist censoring him or her? I call this “free association.” It’s as if the character is telling you his story and you’re the scribe. Throw everything onto the page without filter and you might stumble onto your next book.
Exercise: Take a pen and paper and free write without censorship. Go bonkers. When you’re done, ask yourself – Do I write like this? Is this more natural than what I’m writing now? I’m convinced you must enjoy what you’re doing, otherwise it’s too much like work.
4.) Can you trust your instincts to get it right? When I’m working out a character, I resist getting feedback from anyone else. I want to feel sure about the character before I open myself up to criticism or get input from a committee of beta readers. Trust your gut. It’s your story.
Exercise: Answer these questions: Is my writing something I would read? What’s on my shelves? Am I forcing my voice?
5.) Don’t push your instincts into an area of voice that does not feel completely comfortable to you. I like writing when I’m slightly off balance and unsure, but I know my boundaries. I couldn’t write Chicklit for example. Not a whole novel, for sure. Plus my sense of humor runs more subtle so I’m not likely to try slapstick weirdness for a whole book either. Even if you’re a risk taker, I feel strongly that there are limits and we must determine what those are to make any adjustment to voice that has any hope of being successful.
Exercise: Am I enjoying what I’m writing? Does it feel like work or fun? Unless I’m writing something that comes naturally, it can seem like drudgery. Remember this is your passion and it should be fun.
Even when I ventured into YA, I still wrote about loners, the quietly brave hero, the cynical character, the well timed one liners, and the brooding male. I created my teen characters to be unique to the story line, yet my world building and character voices were consistent with my comfort zone. I read many many YA books before I wrote the genre. I wanted to write about smart and unique characters who knew how to tread through life alone if they had to, the kid who could be shadows that most people don’t notice until these kids rise up to become heroes. Those are the kinds of books I like to read and write.
So what about you? How did you develop your author voice? Any new tips to add?