Talking about Voice, part 1: What is it?

For those of you coming over here from Ink Pageant, I put in the wrong url over there. This is the post you want. Of course, this one is cool too...

Voice is the unicorn of writing.

Seriously. Everybody wants it, most people aren't sure what it looks like and it's rumored to have all kinds of magical powers.

Such as the ability to sparkle and to fight bulls that are MADE OF FIRE.

Voice trumps almost everything. But for such an important part of writing, it's very difficult to pin down. What IS voice exactly?

Webster's isn't very useful here. The closest definition that it has is this one :

Definition of VOICE

3: an instrument or medium of expression  

Wikipedia is closer, but still not much help.

Writer's voice is the literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author. Voice was generally considered to be a combination of a writer's use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works). 

Could that be more vague? (Answer: no.)

Here's what I think:

When we talk about voice, we're actually talking about two separate things: the voice of the writer and the voice of the character.

The voice of the writer you write. How you put sentences together, what kind of words you choose, how much description you use. We'll talk about that later in the series, but basically, it's something that only comes with practice. Much like being a graceful dancer.

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You gotta make it look easy.

The voice of the character is a bit different. It is (I believe) what many agents and editors talk about when they use the phrase "I loved the voice". It's what makes YOUR character sound unique, and therefore pulls the readers in.

The problem with trying to define voice is that it's such an abstract concept. So we're going to make it concrete. I'm going to SHOW you, using paragraphs from lots of different books and different authors exactly what we mean when we say voice.

(Or at any rate, what *I* mean when I say voice. As with everything else on the Internet, your mileage may vary.)

Any questions? How would you define voice?

You can find the rest of the voice series here: 
Talking about Voice, part 2: Three authors, three books
Talking about Voice, part 3: One author, three books
Talking about Voice, part 4: Viewpoint voices
Talking about Voice, part 5: Differences in character dialogue
Talking about Voice, part 6: Helpful links

Blog post called on account of revisions.

...and also because my brain exploded and I forgot. Sorry! *hangs head in shame*

A few snippets to tide you over until Monday.

1. I'm starting my voice series next week. So if you have any questions or things you'd like me to address, leave a comment on this post.

2. As much as I love revising, I'm haunted by the fear that I'm really making everything worse. Does anyone else have that problem? How do you get over it?

3. Also... a cat.

(I saw this on someone's blog last week and pretty much snorted coffee out my nose. But I can't remember who it was. So if it was you, well played!)

See you Monday!

Shameful writer secrets...

 I have a shameful writer secret. Do you want to hear it?

Are you sure? Here goes....

*whispers* I love revising.

There. I said it.

Even now, hordes of angry writers are descending on my house to threaten me with pickforks and torches. Because all writers hate revising right? We love our words, our precious words, and don't want to see any of them thrown out.

Yeah, not me. I love revising. LOVE IT! Sure I have those times where you don't know how to fix anything and everything seems to be a horrible mess, but even then? I love it.

Revising for me is like solving a Rubik's cube.* I push the words and pull them and rearrange them and all of a suddenly... click. Everything drops into place.  It's like magic. You move this paragraph three pages over and rewrite a few sentences and suddenly your dialog comes alive. It starts breathing and moving and you want to cackle like a mad scientist and yell "IT'S ALIVE".

(Revising is also like Frankenstein's monster.)

 I bring this up because I spent about seven hours yesterday revising. SEVEN HOURS. A full work day. But it didn't feel like that long because I was enjoying myself.

And then today I spent seven hours at my day job. And well....

*awkward pause*

Anyway, do YOU have any shameful writer secrets?

*I've never actually solved a Rubik's cube. I'm not that cool.

Monday Question: What do YOU want to know about voice?

Some of you may remember that I was planning to do a series on writer's voice in November.

Yeah, that totally didn't happen.

But I do still really want to talk about it. So I'm opening up the floor with a question for you. (Yes you. You lurking over there. I see you. Come on out.)

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What do you know about voice? What would you like to know?

Contest Winner!!

First off, THANK YOU EVERYONE! This was the best contest I have ever run.  You all win a sleeping puppy.

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And the winner is of the giftcard is...



Connie, please email me about which giftcard you want. (Starbucks or Barnes and Noble.)

As for everyone else, thanks again for playing. If you're looking for other awesome contests to enter, check out P.J. Hoover's blog. She gives away some amazing books on a regular basis.

Have a good weekend!

Well it had to happen sometime...

Contest results will have to wait until Saturday.


*goes to pick up what's left of her mind*

How to promote on Twitter (or why I went pink for LIAR SOCIETY)

When it comes to social networking, the best kind of promotions are organic, creative and authentic. As an example, let me present  Lisa and Laura Roecker, authors of The Liar Society.

The Liar Society releases March 1, 2011

This book has an awesome cover story. And a couple of weeks ago--in celebration of their heroine's pink hair--Lisa and Laura  dyed their author picture/Twitter avatar pink.

The response was huge. We all thought it was hilarious. And then other people started photoshopping their hair pink. First it was just a joke between the  Roeckers and some other authors they know. And then Lisa and Laura decided to run with it.  Which is when this showed up in my Twitter feed.

I am always down for supporting debut authors and I thought this was an amazing idea. So I sent them a picture of me, and this is what I got back.

So now I'm pink (at least on Twitter) and I'm not the only one.

The moral of this story? People are always talking about how to use social media for promotion. But the truth is, the best promotions come out of relationships and out of a willingness to have fun. Lisa and Laura could have tweeted about their release hundreds of times, and begged for retweets and I would not have noticed.

But pink hair? I am so in.

What's the best social media promotion you've ever seen?

The Monday post is coming...

But until it gets here, don't forget to enter my contest for a 25$ gift card! The contest runs until midnight tonight, and you could win either a Starbucks or a Barnes and Noble gift card.

*goes back to preparing Monday post*

Working hard and a CONTEST!

This is my new motto.

To my shame, I cannot for the life of me remember where I got this. So if someone knows where it came from, please give me a heads up so I can give credit where awesome credit is due.


Yes. And it will be awesome. Like, you might win ACTUAL MONEY AND/OR GIFT CARDS awesome.

Notice how your eye keeps wandering to the word "money"? I so did that on purpose. *looks evil*

There might also be a book prize. But to find out, you have to come back. And enter.

*remembers manners*


Some things that are awesome.

1. My blog followers. Seriously. You guys are awesome. Thank you for your supportive comments on my last post. It gave me a definite mood lift.  Penguin hugs for all!

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2.  Huxley videos.  I might be the only person in the world who actually thinks these are funny, but they're so much fun to make that I don't care. Here's my newest one.

Huxley and I argue about Zombies Vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier.

For those of you who can't see the video, the link is here

What's awesome about your week so far?

Not the post I was going to write, but...

I was getting ready to write a nice little post continuing my wrap-up of the "why do you do this" discussion. I was going to give you my reasons for writing, and share some of my deeply held beliefs about the power of stories.

And then it hit me.

That feeling.

You know that feeling. The feeling that screams "You are not qualified! You are failing!" The feeling that sucks all the energy from your muscles and turns your stomach into a knot.

Words evaporate. Your dreams crumble under your fingers like a dried-up sand castle. You feel scraped out, uncreative and hopelessly broken.

That's where I am tonight. Tired, battered and just the tiniest bit angry at the universe. Do I like this feeling? Not in the least.

Am I quitting? Hell no.

I ask myself why I write. And even on days like this, the answer comes back clear and unwavering.

I write because writing brings light into the darkness of the world. Every act of creation, when done with love and compassion, creates ripples that we cannot see or measure.

I write because when I write, I am made better. When someone reads it they are made better (hopefully). It is a small healing but it matters.

I write because the world breaks my heart and words stitch it back up again.

This wasn't the wrap-up I was planning, but there you have it.

That's why I write.

Conclusions, part 1

Some very interesting discussions developed over the last few posts. Originally it started with me asking you "Why do you do what you do?"

The vast majority answered that question with something along the lines of "Because I have to. It's who I am."

While that answer might be true (and it's one I've used) I think ultimately it's a lazy answer. Everyone says it, including the people who quit. Identifying yourself as a writer because that's just who you are is a little like saying "I'm in love, I just can't help it." Something will eventually come along to destroy that shaky foundation.

It's shaky, because as people we change all the time. Circumstances change us, tragedy changes us, life in general changes us. Especially those of us who are not content with the status quo. As long as we seek to grow, we will change.

Linking your writing exclusively to your identity is also dangerous. If the writing goes away for some reason, such as sickness or carpal tunnel, your identity goes poof. Without knowing why you write, you cannot find other ways to scratch that itch when writing becomes unavailable. And it becomes harder to find reasons to continue in the face of rejection and discouragement.

So, being the closet mad scientist I am, I kept asking questions.

 How do you feel NOW! Bwahahaha!

I was trying to determine how much of what we call "the writing life" I could take away before people gave up. What was most important to you about writing? I found three basic things.

1. The joy of creating

This was the first thing I took away, and a couple of people stopped right there. Even if no one ever read them, these people wanted to keep writing for sheer joy of it. BUT, they had more specific responses then just "that's who I am." My favorite response was Wendy who said simply

"I write so I can sleep."

2. Connecting with readers

This was the thing most of my commenters valued overall. They chose connecting with readers over never having writer's block, and then again chose connection over earning money.  I imagine that a lot of writers write because they want to connect with others. They want to share the dreams and visions that spin inside their heads. They want to read other's dreams and visions and be swept away.

3. Earning money.

A few people chose to give up the joy of creation and settle for a small audience as long as they could earn money.  What I found most interesting about those people was that they equated earning money with being able to continue to write. It wasn't so much that they wanted riches as they wanted to be able to live the life of a full time writer.  As long as they were still writing, and had at least some audience, they were happy.

So those were my conclusions from the grand "why do you do this" experiment.

Have I missed anything? What did you learn this week?

(Joanne asked me on Monday where I stood on these things, and I fully intend to answer. In a separate post. On Saturday. )
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Fabric art in the header by Carol Riggs.