Finding Your Voice

This week at the PLC we’re talking about voice in fiction. That can mean one of two things- the voice you develop as a writer, or the voice of the character telling the story. Today’s post is focusing on developing your own voice, that consistent blend of herbs and spices that stamps each story you write as uniquely yours.

To start with, I want to share a few excerpts from three writers who write with strong voices, and talk a little about each excerpt.

Now, since witches cannot give birth in the usual way- their wombs are full of straw or bricks or stones and when they give birth, they give birth to rabbits, kittens, tadpoles, houses, silk dresses, and yet even witches must have heirs, even witches wish to be mothers- the witch had acquired her children by other means: she had stolen or bought or made them.
–Catskin, Kelly Link

Kelly Link’s prose is captivating. Her specificity and matter-of-factness gives her an air of authority over the most fantastic and improbable of topics. There is whimsy and charm in her work, but it is always balanced by darkness. She also writes as if she is speaking to you, furthering the sensation of intimacy. When you read a Kelly Link story, you come into her world and she tells you secrets.

Bellis lingered in the corridor, silently cursing. She could hear the captain’s bellicose roaring through the door. However she strained, though, she could not make out what was being said.

“Godsdammit,” she muttered, and returned to the featureless concrete room where the submersible sat like some grotesque wallowing creature. The cray attendant waited idly, softly clucking.
–The Scar, China Miéville

Baroque, byzantine, distancing. And look at all those adverbs! Yet, Miéville makes it work, because he is so precise in his choice of words. For me, the word “bellicose” is the lynchpin of this excerpt. As it is no longer in common usage, it lends an antique, Victorian feel to the prose, a sensation that words like “submersible” and “grotesque” pick up and echo. There is also a nice poetic flow to the passage, with all those long ‘o’s and hard ‘c’s.

A dour-faced woman was working at a spinning wheel on a doorstep, and she frowned at Logen as he walked past with the unconscious apprentice over his shoulder. Logen smiled back at her. She was no beauty, that was sure, but it had been a very long time. The woman ducked into her house and kicked the door shut, leaving the wheel spinning. Logen sighed. The old magic was still there.
–The Blade Itself, Joe Abercrombie

Ambercrombie’s writing is clean and transparent, yet infused with dark humor and a hefty dose of reality. Normally in fantasy, we get comely maids giggling at our strapping hero as he strides through the village- here we get a glaring “dour-faced” woman whom our hero is stupid enough to smile at, for some strange reason thinking she will turn that frown upside-down, despite the fact he is carrying a body over one shoulder. Dour-faced or not, who wouldn’t run inside and slam the door? Pretty much all of Abercrombie’s prose contains this delicious thread of mockery.

Three great writers, three very different, very strong voices. So how do we develop a voice as distinct in our own writing?

By reading. A lot. In every genre.

Don’t believe me?

Well then, go read these interviews.
Interview with Kelly Link (via Monster Librarian)
Reveling in Genre: An Interview with China Miéville
Interview with Joe Abercrombie (via SFFWorld)

All three of these writers have at least a dozen influences in and out of their genres. (I originally planned to pull quotes from each interview, but it quadrupled the length of this post, which I am already running long on.)

The first step to developing your own voice is to read voraciously. If a book blows your socks off, reread it, and take the time to figure out what makes you love it. The second step is to write. Write and write and write. Writing is a process of distillation. At first your work will be one derivative soup, but if you keep adding influences to the pot, and refining your own technique, your voice will come together. It’ll be strong and real and yours. And that’s really the only way to do it.