the invisible nature of voice

When I first started learning the craft of storytelling, I really had no fucking clue what voice was. Looking back, especially over some of the old posts I took down yesterday, I was clueless. Laughable now. Back then, I would’ve been offended if somebody pointed out my lack of control over voice.

Voice in fiction writing is invisible, at least to the author. So hard to explain, but it’s something you understand after the first million or so words of fiction.

As I’m writing the novel “The Ghost, the Vampire, and the Jock,” I’m having this epiphany about voice. To me, the book feels slow and stupid. But I’ve said that about many of my stories, and the ones I’m convinced are the dumbest turn out to be reader favorites. Why? Because I can never truly see what I did. Maybe a little long after the fact, but because I wrote the story, and it’s my own voice, I can’t hear the nuances.

I only added 300 words to the novel yesterday, about a page. Which is okay, I’ll take it. But I’m having difficulty getting this thing fired up. I’m throwing every excuse that existed at this book to not write it.

Funny thing, while I’m actually sitting on my ass and tapping away at the keys, I’m having fun. These characters make me laugh and cringe. So far so good. What’s the hold up?

Some of my epiphany came from watching one of Dean Wesley Smith’s Tip of the Week videos, namely the one titled “Rule #3.” Of course this refers to Heinlein’s rule #3, which I’m not explaining here except that it states simply, “Refrain from rewriting.”

Smith ranted in his usual ranty way about people who write shitty first drafts and then go back and fix the shit-pot to make the words look pretty. The metaphor he used in the video is this (paraphrasing more than a bit):

Imagine working at a day job where you’re told, day in and day out, that everything you do is garbage and has to redone five times. No matter what you do, your attempt will never be good enough. How would you feel? Would you bother sticking around at that job?

Imagine that same attitude with fiction writing. Would you write fiction for very long?

Now, I killed the rewriting myth for myself long ago. For me, personally, it didn’t take much because rewriting and editing bore me to tears and I enjoy raw storytelling more. So I write clean first drafts, only “rewriting” when a story doesn’t work, and my edits are normally a spelling and typo check.

But the attitude behind rewriting and sloppy first drafts still rears its ugly head at me, which I find surprising. I adopted Heinlein’s rules maybe… Seven years ago? Something like that. I’ve never looked back.

The real problem with “The Ghost, the Vampire, and the Jock” is, I feel the work is not good enough. In between the moments I’m writing and having fun with the story, I’m afraid of the final quality. I spend too much time worrying about the writing, I’m not spending enough time telling the story.

The solution is really simple, and I’ve known this all along–trust in the voice I can’t hear and can’t see on the page, and have fun with the story.

How do I do this? Set a timer for two hours a day, taking breaks when needed, and play. The novel turns into whatever the heck it needs to be.

Writing a novel is no different than making porn: If you can think of it, it’s already been done and there’s an audience out there for it.

It’s also like sex–the more you do it, the better you get at it, even if you still have insecurities.

By David Anthony Brown

Indie writer and publisher. Among other jack-of-all-trade skills...

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