Coaching the writing voice — the narrative tone and style and essences that become the telling of the story in sentences and paragraphs and scenes and chapters — is the toughest realm of “talent” to access. And for many, to improve upon.
Thing is, sometimes it’s that very thing – your voice – that is standing in your way.
It’s like coaching a singer to carry a better tune.
Writing voice is an ear thing, a sensibility. It is something that comes naturally, and from there is honed and tuned in context to the evolution not only of what you need to get onto the page, but what you are drawn to as a reader, as well.
What may seem like your natural “voice” may not be your ticket, after all.
The ultimate goal of working on your voice is, like the singer, a more appropriate tone and style and musicality for the performance. The singer has to get it at some point, no matter what the teaching tries to convey.
I once heard Michael Bolton sing opera during a concert (you can hear that HERE), and it was stellar, he absolutely could do it and do it well. Question is… could he do it better than, as well as, the professionals in that niche?
Bolton singing opera, as good as it sounds to you and me, is not the voice that sold millions of pop records.
That’s the point: write what works. Discover what works, and if you’re there yet.
But first you need to understand what works. In this case more than others, feedback is critical. Too often it comes in the form of rejection. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Use your resources, ask for honesty. Then listen.
You very well may not have found that voice yet, even after years of banging out stories.
This case study is from a writer who has been hitting some brick walls with her submissions because of, she has been told, her narrative voice.
Agents and editors are complimentary of her writing in general, and her story sense, but they “just aren’t feeling it” where the voice is concerned.
Translation: it wasn’t distinctive enough. And perhaps, it was too often off-key. Or simply too often too much.
She submitted the problem, which became our coaching objective, along with two separate 5-page excerpts from her novel. I’ve included all that here, followed by my analysis and some coaching points.
The take away: it’s easy to do, but bringing a third person sensibility (which may be your natural voice) and context to first person narrative creates an unnatural tonality to the voice, to the point of distracting from the story.
You absolutely do NOT want your narrator to sound like your high school English teacher. You remember, the one that had a thing for adjectives.
See that happen here, along with some tips and examples, including a link to one of the finest modern “voices” writing novels today (no, it’s not me, trust me): Voice analysis and Coaching.
Many thanks to this courageous author, who requested only that her name and the name of her protagonist not be used, because she doesn’t want this on a search engine somewhere after she revises the manuscript. Which she will, since the feedback resonated and she now sees it and hears it better than before.
In fact, her response was to switch from first person to third person in the next draft, because she’s closer to understanding her natural gift of narrative, which fits better there.
Feel free to share your thoughts, she deserves any feedback we have that might help.
If you’d like some feedback on your story, click the links at the top of this post for a short Concept/Premise analysis, or a longer Full Story Plan analysis. I won’t post your work (and the feedback) here if you don’t choose to go that route… and that’s not the point. YOU are the point, in many cases saving months or even years of exploration and experimentation over a series of draft, perhaps never really understanding why your submission gets the responses it does.
NEWS FLASH ANNOUNCEMENT: I just learned today that Turner Publishing has sold the audiobook rights to all of my novels, including my current title, Deadly Faux, myfour backlist titles, and my new release on December. Exciting news for me, I’ve been trying to crack that code for years now. The producing company is a Grammy winner and considered the best player in that niche.
Who knows, maybe now I can accompany you on a road trip sometime! Will keep y’all posted as this unfolds.