Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Finding Your Voice

By Melissa West, @MB_West

Part of the How They Do It Series   

JH: Join me in welcoming YA author Melissa West to the blog today. If you write, at some point you're probably going to stress about voice--what is it, do you have it, how do you find it, how do you strengthen it. It's one of those writerly rites of passage, I think, and Melissa is here to make finding your voice a little easier.

Melissa lives in a tiny suburb of Atlanta, GA with her husband and daughter. She pretends to like yoga, actually likes shoes, and could not live without coffee. Her writing heroes include greats like Jane Austen and Madeleine L'Engle. She holds a B.A. in Communication Studies and an M.S. in Graphic Communication, both from Clemson University. Yeah, her blood runs orange. GRAVITY is her first novel.

Take it away Melissa...

Voice is a singular thing attached to an author that is both essential and nearly impossible to explain. If you’ve been in the query game at all, you’ve seen this word mentioned countless times by agents and editors. Everyone wants a “fresh voice,” an “engaging voice,” a “distinct voice.” And I’ll be honest, when I first began writing I had no idea what they were talking about. What was the difference between a character’s voice and authorial voice? Were they the same thing? I was clueless, but now I know why.

See, imagine you have a child that enjoys playing baseball. He tosses the ball with Dad, sleeps with his glove, and generally obsesses over every MLB player. You know he loves baseball, but you don’t yet know whether he has talent for the sport. He may naturally be better at basketball or soccer. You don’t know until you put him in a uniform and send him out onto the field. Not once. Not twice. That’s not enough. You need to see if his talent will show over the course of an entire season.

The same goes for writing. It is next to impossible to find your authorial voice after finishing one manuscript. At that point, you aren’t even sure whether you’re writing in the genre that flows most naturally to you. The key to finding your authorial voice is to write—a lot. Notice trends in your writing. Notice the way your words connect together. And most importantly, don’t try to force yourself to mimic the style of other writers. Authorial voice is about your ability to craft a story, in a way that only you could craft it.

Now that I’ve been writing for a few years, my agent and editor both remark on my voice. It’s something I never imagined I would develop, and I still remember the first time I noticed that I had one. I had just rewritten GRAVITY and was reading through the draft for typos. All the sudden, I stopped and stared at the page, reading the lines again and again. Then I flipped a few pages and read more. I began to see my own style in the words. It was like magic. From that point on, I knew I had a voice, and I knew for me to recreate that voice I had to do one thing—talk to the reader. Is that what all writers do? I’m not sure. But for me the easiest way to guarantee that I’m writing in my voice is to sit back, open a fresh document, and begin talking. It’s amazing how quickly a story unfolds.

About Gravity

In the future, only one rule will matter:

Don’t. Ever. Peek.

Seventeen-year-old Ari Alexander just broke that rule and saw the last person she expected hovering above her bed—arrogant Jackson Locke, the most popular boy in her school. She expects instant execution or some kind of freak alien punishment, but instead, Jackson issues a challenge: help him, or everyone on Earth will die.

Ari knows she should report him, but everything about Jackson makes her question what she’s been taught about his kind. And against her instincts, she’s falling for him. But Ari isn’t just any girl, and Jackson wants more than her attention. She’s a military legacy who’s been trained by her father and exposed to war strategies and societal information no one can know—especially an alien spy, like Jackson. Giving Jackson the information he needs will betray her father and her country, but keeping silent will start a war.


  1. Great post, Melissa.
    As someone working on their first novel, there have been countless times when I've wondered how my "voice" transpires through my prose. My writing a year ago is unrecognisable today; it doesn't look like "my" work at all.
    I just hope that I can develop it enough so that when the time comes I'll have my own agent and editor remark on my voice, as they did to you. :)
    Thanks for the insight!

  2. Great post totally agree. Voice is tricky, but I think I got it when I managed to relax and enjoy telling the story.

  3. Great post. And I love the sound of your novel. Ooh! On my TBR list!