We don’t usually have trouble recognizing a gorgeous singing voice. Operatic tenor, Luciano Pavrotti, for example, or Frank Sinatra with his inimitable bel canto phrasing, or Judy Garland who tore the heart out of us while she reached for her rainbow.
And in fiction when the writing leaps off the page, we often say “I love her/his voice.” But what does a voice in fiction mean? After all, writing is silent. Or is it?
Legendary agent Donald Maass said, and this is a paraphrase, that a writer’s voice is expressed in the personality of his central character. If you think about this, it makes sense. Dull character/dull voice. But if a character is striking, the author’s voice, or style if you will, leaps off the page.
Rita Henuber in her terrific blog of July 1, “Be a Successful Hooker,” touched on this topic when she wrote--another paraphrase coming up--Whom would you rather read about? A woman making out her grocery list, or a woman yanking a naked guy out of the shower? I’m going for the woman and the naked guy. I’m going for personality.
Of course, creating a compelling voice is easier said than done. My pet theory is that “voice,” or as Maass claims, a character people want to turn pages for, is the result of Fearless Fiction. You have to write without worry about Big Brother breathing down your neck and passing judgment on everything your characters say, do and feel. Despite, in other words, what your potential reviewer, crit partner, agent, editor, or grandmother (God rest her soul) might think. You simply can’t afford to care. Not at this developmental stage.
Take that woman who’s yanking the guy out of the shower; say she changes her mind. Instead, she stays in there, soaps him down even if the neighbors, metaphorically speaking, are peeking in the window. She’s a writer of Fearless Fiction who knows the rules, fully understands what is “correct” but is also not intimidated by rules: One word paragraphs are fine. Ditto for fragments. Four letter words too. The list goes on; the point being that honesty comes before rules or public opinion.
When an author is courageous enough to write without fear of criticism or of being “incorrect,” personality bursts through the words. Not that the subject matter has to be salacious, or sensational, or apocalyptic, but it has to ring true. Without the author’s willingness to “let it all hang out,” writing is timid and tends to result in little more than grocery lists. And what grocery list has a striking voice? Personally I’d rather watch—and listen--to somebody singing in the shower.