Do we have a treat for you! Susan Kaye Quinn has graciously offered to do a guest post for us. In this post, she gives aspiring writers some great advice on how to find your "voice".
A Study in Voice, or Silencing Your Inner Critic
by Susan Kaye Quinn
Voice is an elusive thing, something difficult to describe because it is unique to each writer. Finding your Voice as a writer is something that takes time, exploration, and a whole lot of words. I've heard several definitions of Voice, from the confidence that a writer exudes when they write (via Bryan Russell) to an eight point definition put forth by Nathan Bransford. I think Voice is an expression of your inner writer self, the one that's a true reflection of who you are, and therefore is as much an exploration of yourself as it is of the stories or characters that you write.
In some ways, it's like Luke going into the cave to face his darkest fears. What's in that dark hole in the ground? What secrets will I find buried deep within me, if I explore my writerly Voice? What if I don't want to go into the hole, because I'm comfortable writing the way I am, thank you very much?
When I set out to write my paranormal/SF novel Open Minds, I had barely more than an image and a paragraph to start with. It was the ultimate pantser approach. I started the month of November with an idea for a novel and a blank word processor document, determined to "win" at National Novel Writing Month by writing 50,000 words by the end of the month.
And I did. But what happened along the way was much more than the start of a novel. It was a 50,000 word discovery of Voice, both my character's and my own.
Prior to that, I had written a few novels chapter-by-chapter. I would craft the first draft of a chapter and then edit, edit, edit until it was presentable. Beautiful. Perfect! (Ha.) Then I would spend another week writing the next chapter. And so on.
This is a great way to practice your craft, but a terribly slow way to write a novel. You will get there eventually, but all those carefully polished chapters will end up being thrown in the trash bin during revisions. Trust me on this.
I set out to write Open Minds differently. This time I would rush headlong through a story that no plot, no outline, nothing. I would write 50,000 words without stopping to correct so much as a typo.
Because I had this girl's voice in my head, and I wanted to capture it on paper before I lost it. Kira - a girl who couldn't read minds in a telepathic world - had a voice even from that first paragraph. It was filled with sarcasm, as a defensive weapon in a world that was hostile to her, but tempered with a genuine love for her family and (few) friends. Her voice was part of her character and it spoke to me.
But in order to hear Kira's voice and get it down on paper, I had to silence my Inner Critic, that nasty wench that insisted I get all those chapters polished and beautiful before daring to move on to the next one. My Inner Critic didn't go quietly. In fact, simply locking her in the basement was insufficient. I won't go into the details (and there was no body, so you can't prove anything), but let's just say she didn't bother me for that entire month of November, while I cranked out 50,000 words of Kira's story.
Along the way to finding Kira's voice, I also gained much insight into my own. In the rapid flow of words, I could see eddies where my voice was concentrated, building a beautiful swirl of words and phrases that painted the picture that was trapped in my head. (Some of those words even survived into the final draft.) Other turbulent passages were just a mess of language trying to say something, but badly. I knew I could go back and fix those later, but the euphoria of bringing the story and characters to life on the page had brought out not only Kira’s voice, but my own.
If you’ve never tried fast drafting, I recommend you give it a shot. I highly recommend having an outline first (trust me, this works much better, and is how I’ve written every novel since Open Minds), but if you don’t have an outline, don’t let that stop you. The benefits of finding your character’s voice (and your own) outweigh the dirty deeds that must be done to silence your Inner Critic.