Wednesday, February 22, 2012

An Author’s Voice . . . Innate or Developed? by guest blogger JoAnn Durgin

JoAnn Durgin is the author of the popular contemporary romantic adventures, Awakening, and its follow-up, Second Time Around, published by Torn Veil Books. Her third book in the series, Twin Hearts, releases next month. JoAnn, her husband, Jim, and their three children live in her native southern Indiana after living in TX, CA, PA and MA. She likes to say she’s “been around in the nicest sense of the word.” She’s a full-time wealth administration paralegal in a Louisville, Kentucky, law firm, and is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America. Her books are available at every major online book retailer such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, both in paperback and electronic versions. Please visit her at or on Facebook.

NR: JoAnn will give away one copy of Awakening (Book #1 in The Lewis Legacy Series), one copy of Second Time Around (Book #2), and one copy of Twin Hearts (it won't be available in paperback form to ship until on or after April 1, 2012, but can be sent electronically to the winner). Leave a comment for her to be entered in the drawing. Continental U.S. residents only, please.

An Author’s Voice . . . Innate or Developed?

One of the most challenging hurdles for a beginning writer is finding his or her “voice.” What does “voice” mean, why is it so important and how is it different from point-of-view? A well-developed “voice” is a technique used by writers to help a reader “see” the unfolding events in a story through the eyes of one or more characters. Since an author creates those characters, he or she knows their family dynamic, background, environment, accomplishments, hopes, dreams, loves, failures, vulnerabilities and fears. The better the author knows a character, the more real they will become. An effective voice is a crucial element to keep the reader turning the pages, and it’s manifested with active (as opposed to passive) phrasing, dialogue and narrative as it draws them deeper into the fictional world.

Is an author’s voice like a fingerprint, unique to that one person? Some suggest it’s innate and writers are “born” with it. Some believe voice is learned or developed after much practice, trial and error. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but it could be a combination of both. Just as some recording artists are easily identifiable (think Adele, Willie Nelson, Barbara Streisand), other vocalists’ voices are more generic. Authors should never be content to simply “blend in” with the crowd; they want to rise above the rest and shine! But how?

Showing is the best way to illustrate my point, so below are two examples from my March 2012 release, Twin Hearts (third in The Lewis Legacy Series, but it can stand on its own):

Example #1: Weaving his way through the room of a hundred or so women in red hats of all sizes and shapes—pretty much a reflection of their owners—Josh was a wonder to behold. A number of the ladies looked at the guys as if they were dessert, but they smiled and laughed as they went about their task, ignoring the middle-aged hormones in overdrive. It was as close to swooning as anything she’d ever seen. Based on all the fanning going on, there were enough hot flashes in the room to bake a cake.

Example #2: She didn’t want to feel such a strong attraction for Josh, but her heart and pulse weren’t listening. Don’t look at the eyes. If she repeated it to herself enough times, would it keep her from succumbing to his charms? Those eyes had been her undoing before and would be again if she didn’t watch herself. So much for the self-pep talk. A whole lot of good it did. Why he felt the need to dress in one of his fancy power suits was beyond her, but then again, here she sat in a dress costing the equivalent of a monthly car payment for Ladybug. Hypocrisy was highly overrated sometimes.

Both of the above examples are in the point-of-view of my heroine. Do you see where her “voice” comes into play? Even without knowing anything about this character, you get a good sense of who she is, her sense of humor, her powers of observation, and understand she has a history with Josh. Look at the last two sentences of each paragraph. Those are my zingers, but they’re not always at the end of the paragraph. However, writers should always try to end chapters with a word or a sentence that will hook the reader into turning the page in order to find out what happens next. One of the best compliments I ever received is when a reader said, “I’ve learned to stop reading your books in the middle of the chapter. Once I read the end of a chapter, I have to keep going.”

As authors, we love reviews describing our books with adjectives like fresh, innovative, effortless and engaging. More often than not, those words are referring to the writer’s voice. It’s that element of a novel differentiating it from the rest of the crowd which makes the writing shine, stand out and worthy of attention. Finding one’s writing voice can sometimes be elusive, and it can become a source of great frustration. Persevere and don’t allow it to deter you from writing your best. Perhaps it’s hidden, but I firmly believe a unique voice is within every author, waiting to be discovered and revealed. I’d like to suggest the following five ways to help discover your voice:

#1: Know your characters from the inside out.
#2: Keep the voice true to the character’s point-of-view. 
#3: Be an observer of people and events, but also the ironies, humor, tragedies and triumphs of life. It makes you a better writer overall, but it also helps infuse your characters with personality so they almost leap off the page—and into the hearts and minds of readers.
#4: Write what you know and write passionately from your soul.
#5: Approach every character and story as if it were your first or your last. Make them count.

Remember this: even the most innovative plot can be dead-in-the-water without that well-developed voice. Conversely, even the dullest, plodding plot can be enthralling if told with a masterful voice.

Thank you for the opportunity to visit with you today, and I wish all of you God’s best as you read and write. Blessings, my friends. Matthew 5:16

Twin Hearts
Josh Grant is a man seeking redemption. He’s not looking for love, but finds it in a most unexpected and tender way. His twin sister, Rebekah, is torn between two very different men: one a dashing British aristocrat offering her the world, and the other a humble, quiet, faithful Louisiana lumberman. When family tragedy strikes, the twins lean on Sam and Lexa Lewis and their fellow TeamWork Missions volunteers for encouragement. Together they learn lessons in faith and family and what's most important in life as they discover it’s time to stake their claim on love, which means a road trip from Louisiana to . . . the peace to be found in seeking and finding the sweetest desires of the heart. Available from Torn Veil Books in March 2012 in both paperback and e-book versions at all major online book retailers.


Emily C. Reynolds said...

Great article! I love discussions of voice. Writing in deep 3rd pov can be a lot of fun. Peppering internal monologue is a great way to pull the reader into the pov character's view, and of course zingy dialogue.

I think most writers have to explore a bit before discovering their voice. It can't be contrived or forced. It has to happen naturally. Just because you like the way someone writes doesn't mean you can or should write that way. Be okay with your own style.

Thanks for the giveaway! Sign me up! I *love* romance with humor. :D

JoAnn Durgin said...

Thanks, Emily, and you make great points! It's certainly true that writers need to write, write and then write some more before truly finding their voice. But you're also right that it happens naturally. The reader can tell the difference otherwise. And yes, I write what I like to read (romance with humor), and I think that makes me more passionate in my writing. I appreciate your wonderful comments! Blessings.

Ane Mulligan said...

I LOVE this, JoAnne. It took me a few tries to find my true voice, but I'm loving writing now that I have!! (btw I'm not in the drawing)

vonildawrites said...

JoAnn: It seems you're saying that an author's voice comes from the author's imagination--including what they "know" about the characters and how they portray that information. Thanks for helping me make that connection. Say hi to the "new" bridge for me!


JoAnn Durgin said...

Hi, Voni! I think the author's voice is a combination of elements, but yes, I firmly believe (at least for me) that knowing your characters is one of the most important components in "finding" that voice. It's getting inside the character's head and thinking the way they would, and then putting a unique spin on it with a turn of phrase, etc. It might sound complicated, but as Ane Mulligan said, once you "find" your own voice, writing becomes even more of a joy! And yes, having the bridge back is glorious. Simply glorious. Blessings.

Wendy said...

Hi JoAnn,
Even though I am not a writer I have found that there is a lot of information that can be used.
Looking forward to your next book.
Bless you and yours,

jude said...

Like this post, JoAnn and Ane! We hear so much about voice. We know a writer or singer's voice when we hear it, but yes, as Ane said, it takes awhile to get our own voice. I believe a lot of it is innate, but we learn about our own voice just as we learn our craft as we gain experience.

Have read the first two books and loved them and certainly want to read the third!
Jude Urbanski

JoAnn Durgin said...

Thanks so much for stopping by, Wendy and Jude. I appreciate both of you so much as friends and readers. Voice is one of those rather difficult things to try and describe or explain to someone who's not a writer. You're right, though, Ane and Jude. As authors, we take the nugget of talent and innate ability the Lord graces us with and then develop it over time and with lots of effort. Blessings.