Voice. Agents and publishers use the word "voice" a lot, especially when asked what they’re looking for in a story. But what is it, exactly? And where can you find yours?
I like to think of voice as a story’s personality. Every book, TV show, and movie has one. It’s shaped by the writer's tone, style, technique, word choice, and use of narrative devices, but it’s not just the sum of these parts. It’s what you, a unique individual with a particular genetic makeup and particular set of life experiences and a particular point of view, bring to the story you are trying to tell.
Having a voice means seeing the world a particular way -- YOUR way. It means knowing what you believe to be true of the world and the people in it. It means having your own point of view. The problem is, we aren’t born with a point of view. It’s something we develop over time, and it changes as our lives change. As we change. Part of the reason I struggled as a writer in my teens and early twenties was because I wasn’t yet sure how I saw the world. I thought I knew, but I was still figuring it out. When I look back at some of the short stories I wrote in college, I see that uncertainty on the page.
I remember having such a love/hate relationship with writing because of it. I had so many ideas for plots and characters, but no real connection to them. No sense that the stories I was creating were uniquely mine to tell. That, I think, is the key to it: to find a story that only you could tell, and to trust yourself enough to tell it in the way that only you could. It's hard work, both finding the story and committing yourself to the most authentic telling of it. It's easier, sometimes, to go barreling forward with a clever idea, hoping that the voice thing will just work itself out.
I promise you. It won't.
But if that’s where you are right now, don’t panic. It’ll come. The trick is learning to get out of your own way. A great place to do this is in a journal if you’re a private person or on a blog if you’re not.
In high school and college I kept very detailed journals where I attempted to process all the things I was experiencing. Reading those pages now, I hear a very distinctive voice. The writer I was becoming. Journals are a great place to cultivate your voice. Try to be as honest as possible when you write, and do your best to turn your brain off. Just let it pour out. Unless you’ve got snoopy parents or friends, no one is going to read what you’ve written but you.
Blogs are also great for developing voice. I wrote a blog almost every day while I was writing PARALLEL and it kept me in touch with my voice while I was so deep into Abby’s. Blogs are a great format for improving your writing skills generally. And, it’s a great way to develop a body of written work. It might even help you get published! I sold PARALLEL because of my blog. A woman who followed my blog forwarded it to an agent friend of hers, and that agent reached out to me and asked if she could read my just-finished manuscript. Two months later, that agent became my agent, all because a girl in Tennessee connected with my blog voice enough to want to share it with her agent friend. Voice is powerful. It’ll sell your story. But it has to be authentic.
About the Author
Lauren Miller is an entertainment lawyer and television writer. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.
Thanks to Kristyn Keene at ICM and Sarah Landis at HarperTeen, her debut novel, entitled Parallel, hit bookstores on May 14th. Her second novel, Free to Fall, will be out next Spring.
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About the Book
Your path changes. Your destiny doesn’t.
Abby Barnes had a plan. The Plan. She’d go to Northwestern, major in journalism, and land a job at a national newspaper, all before she turned 22. But one tiny choice - deciding to take a drama class her senior year of high school - changed all that. Now, on the eve of her 18th birthday, Abby is stuck on a Hollywood movie set, wishing she could rewind her life. The next morning, she’s in a dorm room at Yale, with no memory of how she got there. Overnight, it’s as if her life has been rewritten.
Abby soon discovers that this new reality is the result of a cosmic collision of parallel universes that has Abby living an alternate version of her life. And not only that: Abby’s life changes every time her parallel self makes a new choice. Meanwhile, her parallel is living out Abby’s senior year of high school and falling for someone Abby has never even met.
As she struggles to navigate her ever-shifting existence, forced to live out the consequences of a path she didn’t choose, Abby must let go of The Plan and learn to focus on the present, without losing sight of who she is, the boy who might just be her soulmate, and the destiny that’s finally in reach.
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