Wednesday, March 29, 2023


LCC Tucson 2023 - a room with a view

Donis here, back from Left Coast Crime 2023, alive and well. Last time I attended LCC, in 2018, I came home with a nasty case of the flu. Covid wasn't even on the map, so you can imagine I was leery about finally venturing out into the world again. But LCC was in Tucson this year, which is about 90 miles from my house, so I figured, what the hey. It was nice to see everyone, and I didn't catch anything. So all in all I'm glad I went.

Me and a couple of panel members at LCC - Elizabeth Crowens, Clare Broyles, Myself

I did dose up on vitamin C after I got home, because the very next week I did a writers' workshop on the concept of voice, and I really didn't want to lose mine before I gave the class. Fortunately all was well, because I do like talking about "voice" in literature since it's such a misunderstood topic.

One of my favorite Voice quotes is from Julia Cameron in her book The Right to Write:  "It is my belief that all of us have a voice in writing because all of us have a voice. Working to have a “unique” voice is another concept that gets a great deal of play. I believe that each of us already has a unique voice. We do not need to “develop” it; rather, we need to discover, or perhaps better, uncover it."

I like that.

Voice is not quite the same as style. Novels look quite different than they did at the turn of the 20th century. Readers don't have the patience to let a story develop like they used to, so the style is to start right off with action. Style is “Tyra Banks is wearing nude lipstick and tucking in her shirt this season.” Voice is Diane Keaton. Styles change, but voice is yours alone.

I feel that most authors are trying to give the reader an experience, and voice is a big part of that.

Voice the attitude of the novel - the mood. First person voice is the personality of the narrator, but third person has voice as well. Think of Ellis Peters vs. Hemingway.

If the novel is in 1st person, then the voice is literally the character’s way of expressing herself. Yet its not just the dialog, but the narration evokes the place and time, the atmosphere, the feel of the novel.

Voice is the way you're writing 'sounds' on the page. It has to do with the tone you take--friendly, formal, chatty, distant--the words you choose--everyday words or high-brow language--the pattern of your sentences, and the way these things fit in--or not--with the personality of the narrator character and the style of your story. It is a reflection of how your character(s) experience the world of your story. Let your characters tell you the story, listen carefully to how they do it, then start writing it down. If you can 'hear' your characters, it's likely that you'll get the voice of your story right.

Voice is important because it gives your writing personality. A strong voice helps you grab your readers' attention and establish a relationship with them. You probably have favorite writers you'll read no matter what their subject, because you like their style so much, and other writers you can't stand because they sound snarky or condescending or otherwise unappealing to you.

Our own Barbara Fradkin compared writing fiction to acting, in that you have to inhabit the character in order to present his true voice. You have to know how your character thinks and behaves so intimately that she practically takes on a life of her own, and it feels almost like you’re simply reporting her thoughts and actions, rather than creating them yourself. I suppose the question then becomes, how many characters in your novel can you inhabit so thoroughly that you can present all their POVs in a natural and interesting way.

Acting metaphor works for 3rd person too. Barbara called it improvisational writing. "Actors immerse themselves in the character they are to play, so they can live, breathe, and imagine that character's every move. This is about empathy, literally feeling for another. Improvisation is a tool actors use to discover their character and to probe more deeply into their feelings and needs."

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard writers say, “I was finally successful when I found my true voice.” I’ve said it myself. Your voice is your own unique way of perceiving the world. It’s the way you put things that’s yours alone. How do you find your distinctive voice? Like any other art, you have to build your basic skills, first. If you are a violinist, you have to learn to read music, bowing, fingering, then you have to practice until your fingers bleed. If you’re a painter, you have to learn about color and pigments, composition, style, then practice until your fingers bleed. If you’re a writer … well, you get the idea. Then, once you have the chops, once you’ve mastered your art, you are able to stop copying your teachers and other virtuosos and begin to do your own thing. You have to be brave, though. You have to trust your own instincts. You have to reveal yourself.

Another favorite quote: “A novel works it’s magic by putting a reader inside another person’s life.” Barbara Kingsolver

No kidding.


All dressed up for the first time in three years

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