Saturday, March 30, 2013

Can You Hear Me Now?

by Kathleen Kaska (Fifth Saturday Blogger)

            It might be a scream, a whisper, an insult, or a humorous comment. It’s what causes me to listen and understand the emotions it needs to convey.            
            It’s a writer’s voice.
            If I can’t hear it, chances are I’m not going to like the book.
            I recently attended a writers conference and listened to a publisher explain her definition of voice. It rang true and clear, so I decided to share my thoughts on this element of writing that is often a challenge to define.
            When I began studying the craft of writing in the early ‘90s, my focus was on plot mainly because I hadn’t a clue how to construct one. I hadn’t given much thought to voice until I picked up a novel by an author I’d never read before. It was his fourth one and it had landed him on the bestseller list. I’d heard so much about the book, I was prepared not to like it. Oh me of little faith. At first, I thought it was the story and characters that grabbed me and whirled me along for the more than four hundred pages. When I finished the book, I rushed out and bought his first three. I struggled through each one and only completed them because I was curious to learn how this author developed his craft. Then I realized that it was his voice that captured my interest in novel four. It was also clear to me that I was unable to hear that voice in his first three novels. Maybe he was still struggling to find it. Who knows? Since then, I’ve read everything the author has written and he’s now one of my favorite contemporary writers.
            So, how do you define voice? What I gleaned from the publisher’s talk was that voice is the emotional thread that connects the writer to the reader. It’s the writer’s unique style of expression, which adds a personal element to the story that character, plot, and setting can’t do alone. Every book I keep has earned its place on my bookshelf because the writer has connected with me on a deep level. Without that connection, even if I finished and enjoyed the story, that book will mostly likely end up in my giveaway box and I will probably not wait in anticipation of the writer’s next one.
            Think about Harper Lee’s voice in To Kill a Mockingbird. Her method and style of telling a story of social injustice and prejudice by having Atticus Finch fail to save the innocent Tom Robinson was so much more powerful than finding him innocent and allowing him to go free. Who doesn’t relate to some sort of injustice inflected upon them? Who hasn’t felt that pain and learned from it? That was the connection for me. I learned something by listening to Lee’s voice.
            Leave a comment and let me know how a certain writer’s voice connected with you.
Kathleen Kaska is a writer of mysteries, nonfiction, travel articles, and stage plays. When she is not writing, she spends much of her time with her husband traveling the backroads and byways around the country, looking for new venues for her mysteries and bird watching along the Texas coast and beyond. Her third Sydney Lockhart mystery, Murder at the Galvez (LL-Publications), was released in December. It was her passion for birds that led to the publication The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story (University Press of Florida).


Jared McVay said...

It is my belief that too many writers try to create a voice, based on what they think they should sound like, instead of just being themselves. Each writer has his or her own voice, but many con't allow it to be heard.
"I want to sound like, so in so," even though it's nothing like the voice you have inside you.
I've been told by many, that even if my name is attached to the piece, they can tell it's me, because of my voice - the greatest compliment I've ever gotten....
Enough about that. It's time to go fishing.

Doctor Dan said...

I think an author can have more than one voice. Rex Stout's third person mysteries are written in a very different voice from the Nero Wolfe stories narrated by Archie Goodwin. When I was co-writing my recent book, THE AMATEUR EXECUTIONER, I had to remind myself that I wasn't Jeff Cody, the neurotic narrator of my more humorous McCabe - Cody series.

Kathleen Kaska said...

Jared, I agree that your voice, your true voice, comes through in your novels. They could be written by no one else but you. Hope you catch a boatload.

Kathleen Kaska said...

Doctor Dan,
Authors do have difference voices, just like there are so many different sides to each of us. Being able to get in touch with a voice and bring it alive on the page is a real talent. You and Stout have that in common. I love Enoch Hale's voice.

Morgan Mandel said...

Funny, but if I know an author, I can instantly tell how she projects her voice into her work. Some of the same phrases leak through.

As far as authors I don't know personally, I instantly bond with certain authors' voices, and not with others. I don't know how or why, but I suspect it has something to do with using the right techniques in the right places.

Morgan Mandel

Alternative Inbound Marketing said...

It is voice that always captures my attention in a book. I just didn't know it until I started hanging around with writers and learning from them. It is like being involved in a really good conversation that you just can't step away from. Good blog post.

Kathleen Kaska said...

Sometimes an author friend surprises me with a unique, but genuine voice. I guess it comes from one of those secret personalities we possess.

Kathleen Kaska said...

Thanks, Alternative Inbound Marketing.
When you take a beginning writing class, you might not be taught about voice during that first lesson. It's something you have to work into in order to grasp its true meaning.

Marilyn Levinson said...

I agree with some of the opinions expressed here--authors can have several voices. I have one voice when I'm a 58-year-old female sleuth in my Twin Lakes mysteries, and another as Rufus, a ten-year-old boy whose magical abilities often get him into trouble. As a reader, I enjoy a voice that's forthright and unique. Difficult to describe, but the minute I start to read a book, I know whether or not I love the author's voice.

Kathleen Kaska said...

Same here, Marilyn. It doesn't take long to hear that voice when reading a book. Rufus sounds fun. Is this a series?

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Hey, Kathleen--how fun to see ou again. Yes, I met Kathleen in person at Epicon. I think I use two different voices, one for my Rocky Bluff P.D. series and another for my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series.