Have you fought the feeling that your authorial voice keeps eluding you?
Me, too. For years, my deepest frustration has been trying to find my voice as a writer. I needed to know so I could figure out which genre best fit my stories and style; that is, I wanted to determine where to place myself in the large writing and publishing milieu before I spent a year writing the wrong novel, which . . . I did.
I tried using different pseudos. I tried writing historical mystery, romantic and contemporary suspense, creative nonfiction, and . . . you get the idea. I fought with my characters, who would start out as mean, hard-nosed antagonists and end up being edgy protags. Ah! It was a daunting struggle.
Finally, I realized that the conflict could be resolved if I accepted who I am, where my stories are coming from, that deep, repressed core. Yep, it sound easy for those of you who've done that, or had no problem doing that, but for the rest of us . . . Argh!
I've come to think that voice can described based primarily on two things:
1. What's inside, what you feel you must express; simply stated, your voice is based on who you are. It can't be contrived and, if it is, it's easily recognized by readers as such. I don't imagine Picasso would have painted water the same way as Monet.
2. The literary tropes and schema you select to make the desired expression, which also must not be contrived, are telling. Picasso and Monet used techniques, just differing ones.
So I won't be writing the next great noir novel: It's not a genre in which I can find expression, although I read and enjoy it. On the other hand, I've stopped denying (for fear of critical reprisal) the gritty, sometimes . . . yes . . . nasty irreverent heathens that my characters tend to be. They are SOB's, and I LIKE them. I've also stopped worrying about whether my story is didactic; it is. All stories are, in one way or another. Mine is just a little more heavy handed because, yes, damn it, I do have a message I wish to express.
The tropes? Oh, you better believe I know my writing tropes, and I pick and choose the ones that best elucidate my message and help me find expression. It's been an exercise in self discipline, but I've turned the critical eye I use to evaluate others' work on my own (www.buzzardbone.blogspot.com). It has helped considerably. Why not? I have the skills, I know the tools of my craft. I've just not consciously made myself use them.
So my question is, What about you? Do you . . . have you struggled to find your voice? How did you cope with the frustration? What have your successes been? What . . . are your favorite tropes, and do you use them consciously?
Interesting insight, Dana. Hadn't thought of writer's block in conjunction to the angst-ridden search for voice, but as you say, it makes perfect sense. I mean, think of all of the false starts tossed into the file cabinet and forgotten. Aren't those about block? Even if we write one or two hundred pages and don't finish, that seems like a type of block to me. And I have many that I know simply are not my story (love what Dan C. said: It ain't your story). Those half-finished, false starts ain't my stories, ain't my voice.
The real test (or fun if your'e a masochist like I am) comes when we realize those stories ain't our voice, then . . . we have to say, ok, what the heck is?
Beautifully put, Dan. Part of the angst for me was listening to the voices (heh!) of others, what the critics and reviewers and my professors thought was "good" writing. If you listen to others, permit them to define you, which so many of us do when we're trying to write a first (sometimes even second and third) novel, there are a gazillion ways to get derailed. I've experienced them all. It's taken me many years to erase those old tapes and get to the bottom of the problem I've struggled with.
It ain't your story. That's a fab line; says it all with re. to voice. It has to be your story. It has to be.
Well, I hope we all try to be better writers than we are, but the first rule is: tell the damn story. You can clean it up later.
I did not think I had a voice, but was told I have a very distinctive one. Hmm.
I think, I write my series in a different voice from the one I used for my trilogy, and again different from the one in the 18th c. novel, but maybe they are all the same. And that depresses me, because I tried to do better.
Oh, gosh, I.J., it's true. Figuring out anything about our voice starts with telling the damn story in our own damn way.
It's interesting to me that you can write in different voices. I would not be depressed at all. I doubt they sound the same and, even if they do, so what?
My goal is not to depress, but to provoke reflection about our voice because reflecting on the way we write helps us see the way we're crafting a story that will sound a certain way to readers, helps us better understand how our voice is infused into our writing. I have ideas; everyone does. Think about the difference in voice between your 18th c. novel and . . . say . . . your nearest competitor in the same genre on Amazon. What is the diff? What tropes do you use compared to hers? Think about the difference in voice between your trilogy and your 18th c. novel; ask the same questions.
Voice is truly an elusive quality in our writing, but it's there. Analyzing it, recognizing it, helps us clarify it, tighten it, embrace it.
By the way, I'd be thrilled to achieve what you've done, I.J. I'm still working my way up.
Well, then I wish you lots more success than I've had. You sound as if you're on the right path. Ultimately, you have to please yourself.
And what you say about comparing voice with other writers is interesting. It's one way of getting to know your writing style for better or worse.
Tons of issues there, Jack, trying to give each one a distinct voice. Any suggestions on how you differentiate yours?