Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Insecure writer: where did my voice go?

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
I'm pretty sure I've posted about this before: of all the problems that confound writers, the thing I feel most insecure about is "voice" - that unique, almost undefinable expression or way of looking at, talking about or showing the world that every artist needs.  I am struggling with voice, AGAIN.  A crit partner re-read my first chapter of Star Tripped, which I showed her oh-so-proudly because I streamlined it (very nicely, I thought) thanks to help from my PitchWars coach. And she agreed, oh yes, this is good... but one problem, your 2nd main character sounds pretty much like your first main character. He needs a more distinct voice. 

Ah yes, my old nemesis: my characters sounding too much alike. I'm already insecure about my own voice, not to mention my characters' voices.  (Truly writers are odd creatures: the only people who WANT more voices in their heads!)  

Issue #1:  I've been thinking for two weeks now about how to give this guy a more unique voice. And it hasn't come to me yet. 

Issue #2:  I recognize my voice when I read it, when it comes spilling out of its own accord, but I can't force it, and lately it seems to be really scarce. I think a major reason being is this whole past year I've been doing nothing but revisions, and almost no fresh drafting. Can you edit out your voice? Can you edit it back in? 

Fortunately, another writer here in Laramie, Emily Moore (@EGMoorewriter) found me online (I live in a small town, this is close to a miracle, connecting with another kidlit writer!) and we got together and decided to  start a local writers group.  I have another friend who just recently moved here who was also interested. So we had our first meeting this week and we did a 15 minute writing prompt exercise, and a 15 minute free write.  I know that free writing and prompt writing are both excellent exercises to tease voices out (and new ideas!) but it's really hard for me to push myself to do these on my own.  Or in the online writing community.  Sometimes there's just no replacement for meeting face to face with other writers!

How do you find your voice? And your characters' voices? 

14 comments:

  1. I can so relate! I definitely think exhaustive editing and revision can sap out voice. I had the exact issue this year and my in-person critique group called it out. I had to chop up and reorganize my manuscript, and in my attempt to condense scenes and alter pacing, some stuff read like I'd done just that--chopped up and summarized with no flavor or voice. It took stepping back, going back to the scenes that DID work, and thinking, how can I show that here?

    The other thing is critique groups or readers can make suggestions which, if you are not careful, can alter your voice to fit their version of your story. It's such a gray area how to interpret feedback without losing your own take on the scene.

    The freewriting exercise is super helpful. I also did this when a critique partner commented that one of my supporting characters lacked depth. If you write in first person POV, you get so used to being in one character's head, and maybe you don't have the closeness with those other characters. I wrote some scenes with the supporting character as the primary POV, just for myself, and it helped so much. I even used some of his thoughts as dialogue in a scene that made it in the final manuscript.

    I'm glad you found a writer to meet with in person! Those in person discussions can really motivate. And good luck in Pitch Wars!

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    1. Really good point about writing in first person- never thought of how that can keep you from getting to know your other characters better. Thank you... I love long comments like this!

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  2. I have struggled with having the characters sound the same, especially when I've written in dual narration. The only thing that has really worked for me is to really hone in on word choices and thought processes. Usually when I'm drafting or even revising, I try to think, would he/she really say this or think this way? The other thing I've done with historicals at least is to read a lot from the time period. Then the voice from the time seems to seep into my story.
    Doing writing exercises is also great. I think you tend to experiment more, because it's not pressured.
    That's fantastic that you're in pitchwars! Good luck!

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    1. Would he really say this or think this way? Such a good question - thank you!

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  3. Ah yes the elusive voice! I too have had similar problems and it can be so frustrating to tie down. I find writing character profiles helps me get inside the heads of my individual characters more. How awesome to have started your own writing group, I wish you many happy writing sessions.

    Visiting as co-host of IWSG.

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    1. I need to keep a running character profile :)

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  4. Can so relate. I struggle with this too. I try to look for good voices when I read other writers' works and see why they sound good. And try to focus on that a bit when I watch TV shows. Awesome you found someone to work with where you live.

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    1. My problem is I get so sucked into the show I forget to keep track of voice. Thank goodness for instant reruns now with Netflix :)

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  5. You absolutely can revise out voice. But you most certainly can layer it in as well. I definitely had a stage with Never Gone that I went a bit overboard trimming a fairly bloated first draft (from 102K to 64K) and it lost spark. I followed some of the great steps in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (reviewed on my blog yesterday) to bring back the voice (and bumped the manuscript up to a final 67K).

    It helps a lot to do "riff-writing"--especially just-for-fun journal-type freewriting to connect with a character. Like Jenni says, word choices and thought processes make for unique voice, and also, importantly, attitude. You might find helpful a guest post I did "Elements of Voice" back in 2012: http://connies-pen.blogspot.com/2012/11/guest-post-elements-of-voice.html. Voice always, always grows out of backstory--where someone comes from, what unique experiences he's had, what bits of culture appeal to him. Go research that and you'll soon be able to build a unique lexicon for this currently elusive guy.

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    1. Just read that post and it's extremely helpful, thank you!!! going to try some word associations!

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  6. I know I'm going to sound ridiculous, but I imagine a play and write down what each person says. Some people do sound the same to a degree. If they grew up together, or hang together a lot they will take on some of the same characteristics. Or at least that's what I think. I watch TV shows and movies from other countries to learn about how they may speak (not accent so much, more a way of thinking).

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

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    1. That doesn't sound ridiculous at all - it's brilliant. I agree, voice isn't accent, it's more of a way of thinking and how it gets expressed.

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  7. Enjoyed your post. I took care of the problem by ignoring it.

    One comment though. You should put your comment "Writers -- the only people who want more voices in their heads" up on one of those saying-deals, whatever they're called.

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  8. I play it through in my head like a performance so I can tweak it. I do have a character who has a different voice, but I don't like it, so I'm really struggling with her.

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