I’m sure everyone is getting tired of hearing me tell this story, but one of the “minor” breakthroughs on my way to wherever I am now in writing was this conference I attended with some of my fledgelings.
I was standing at the back of a Dave Weber panel (the man does pack them in!) and one of my fledgelings decided it was time to embarrass me.
Okay, that was probably not what he thought he was doing. He was (is) a very earnest and hard working man, and he has some issues realizing that everyone who constitutes himself/herself an authority doesn’t necessarily know what the heck he/she is saying.
The end result of this is that things he found on the internet achieved the quality of gospel to him. I don’t remember which in particularly he was angsting about at the time. I think it was the old chestnut about never starting a sentence with That, or perhaps with Because.
Anyway, he told Dave Weber he had learned this, and should he now go over all his old stories to “fix” them?
Dave blinked owlishly at him and then said, “You know, none of that matters. What matters is having a confident voice. If people feel they’re in the hands of someone who knows what he or she is doing they won’t look for little flaws. It’s all in the voice. The voice covers a multitude of sins.” (Or something like that. Despite the quotes, it’s been ten years, so it’s more of a paraphrase.)
This was sort of a wake up call for me.
You see, this might not be immediately obvious, but I’m a neurotic writer. What I mean is that I question every line I write. When I self-indulged in this doubt, in my younger days, I once produced 200 and some FIRST pages for a novel, because none of them was quite perfect.
The thing is if you sit there and fuss over every word and every action you describe, you self-obviously don’t come across as confident. You come across as fussy or overwrought, or even overworking. If you fuss too much with your opening, you come across as stuttering and uncertain. “The room was blue. No, I really mean blue. Sort of a cerulean color.” It just gives that effect, even if it’s not that silly.
So, what to do to find your voice? I don’t know. For one in my case it’s not MY voice but the voice of the character, which means each book I do this again. (Though there is my voice too, in there. It’s complicated.)
I can tell you what I do to find my voice:
- Imagine the world and the character as vividly and confidently as I can.
- Let it come through (this is more difficult than it sounds.)
- Don’t fuss with it.
Does it always work? Well, sometimes I can’t get to 1. I’ve been stuttering for 2 years over a character who wouldn’t TALK. (She is, now, at last, but gosh.)
When that happens you forge ahead and hope – just hope – that it will break through before the end. Then you go back and fix the beginning.
And exception to “Don’t fuss with it” – if it’s a short work, and the voice never came through, it will improve it somewhat if you go back and remove all the “beg” words. “Almost” “Probably” “Likely” all the words where it looks like you’re giving yourself an out. Unless of course, you’re first person and your character is almost certainly probably too diffident to live.
I realize this is not a great manual for finding your voice, but it is the best I can do. Hopefully something will click with you.
Go forth and sing.