Can You Hear Me Now?
Tuesday, July 23, 2013 by Cindy Sproles

You’re with me right now. Watching that commercial with the guy on his cell phone saying, “Can you hear me now?”  That’s where we begin today. Asking that very question when we give our writing to someone else to read. “Can you hear me now?”

Here’s a question for you. What is your voice and can it be heard in your writing?

I’ve asked that question at writers conferences and heard crickets chirp in the back of the room. That, coupled with cold, blank stares was a great indication my class was clueless. I can’t say I expected less. I remember the first time someone asked me that question.  Finding your voice takes time and tweaking, but once you slip into it, you can bring your writing level up several notches.

What is voice?

Voice is your style, your specific personality and (for lack of better words) your “swagger or attitude” in your writing. It’s when you put your personal stamp on the words you’ve crafted…made it “your own.” It’s what takes normal paragraphs and uniquely sets it above the rest.  That’s voice. Taking the words on the page and adding the twists and turns, the quirkiness of your own personality.  My style of writing is very conversational when I’m working on blog posts and devotions, but when I fall into fiction, the conversational style and my personality blend to make my  true  voice.

I’m a mountain girl. I carry a strong mountain accent in my speaking voice, and I’m full of colloquialisms and cliches’. It’s who I am.  My novels are Appalachian Mountain historical fiction and when I begin to write it’s easy for me to drag the reader into the Appalachians with me.  I want them to hear the inflection, smell the scents, trek the leafy pathways and climb the rocks on the side of the summit when they read my work. I work hard to find the right balance of who I am and how I talk into the words I write so my reader doesn’t get bogged down.

Voice is who you are as a writer and it will vary depending on the genre where you’re writing. For example, in fiction you can add all the bells and whistles of your voice, but for a magazine article, you’ll have to adjust – work to fit the venue  you’re writing to.

Take a look at my voice in fiction:

Married at 13, a mother at 14, widowed and childless by sixteen. Ain’t nobody should have to learn life like I did. No soul should have to claw their way back from the bowels of hell, scared and scraped up like I was. If I can keep that from happening to anybody else, then I can live up to my name—Mercy.  – Where the River Begins

Voice comes by finding those distinctive verbs, or phrases that set the picture firm in your readers mind. Readers understand the people of the Appalachian Mountains when they read phrases like, “No soul should have to claw their way back from the bowels of hell, scared and scraped up like I was.”  My desire is for them to see the hard life of the mountains without over doing the obvious laziness of a southern drawl.

Controlling the Voice

Equally as important in finding your voice, is learning to control it. When I write in this mountain voice, my instinct is to write exactly like I talk (that lazy southern drawl), with things like this: “If I can keep that from happenin’ to anybody else, then I can live up to my name – Mercy. That’s why I’m teachin’ you different.”  That’s certainly voice, but for the reader, there has to be a balance. Too much of a good thing becomes cumbersome and hard to read.

Let’s face it, not all readers are from the mountains in the south (go figure). Leaving off the ” ing” on most of my words would…well…, fry them. I get this. That’s why it’s important I continue to write as close to normal as possible, but toss in the flavor of who I am and where I’m from. I can save the shortened words for my dialogue and this allows that balance for the reader.  They get the feel of the mountains in a language they can easily read , yet when they fall into the dialogue, it flows natural for them. Hopefully, they get the voice of my writing and they lean back and enjoy it. I’d like to think when they’re done reading, they feel like they’ve experienced the mountain and it’s people, culture and joy.

Voice Matters

Voice does matter in your writing.  A strong voice allows you to choose your words wisely – make every one count. It’s speaks to the reader, draws them in, holds them tight.  Voice makes reading an author’s work…fun! I once heard author, Ron Benrey say, “Voice is what begins to build that imaginary bubble your reader floats in.”

Finding Your Voice

Finding your voice may take some time, and that’s okay. It should.

Look at the genre’s you’re writing to and find the one you feel comfortable in.   For example, you may be writing mystery novels but it feels hard and forced for you.  Maybe you’ve chosen this because you’ve heard, “It’s what’s selling,” and so you try to write to the market. Perhaps the words are good and you are happy when you’re done, but then you try your hand at writing romance. You’re amazed how the words fly onto the page and how the dialogue is so easy. The description is easier and you find that you’re adding dabs of your own way of speaking, your thoughts.  Maybe you’re finding your voice. Being comfortable allows you the opportunity to discover your voice. Once you’ve found it, then you can adjust it to fit the work you’re writing.

Grant you, it’s not all in the voice when you search for the genre you’re most talented in, but when the voice clicks, the story flows and you can read it with the twists of your own quirkiness, then you’ve found it. So you learn to build on that in other directions and genres.

Once you learn where your voice lies you’ll never be asking that nagging question, “Can you hear me now?” You will be heard.

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