By D. P. Lyle, M.D.
So, you’ve finished your manuscript and sent it to an agent/editor. Now, you wait, hoping they will sign you up.
What makes them decide? The unique premise or clever plot? The colorful characters? The snappy dialog and wonderfully rendered setting? No, the most important thing agents/editors look for is the voice. When they say they’re searching for something fresh, something that speaks to them, they mean the narrative voice.
What is voice? It’s hard to define, or describe, but like other great art, you know it when you see (read) it. It’s a combination of word choice, rhythm, sentence structure, pacing, tone, and other equally difficult to define qualities.
My definition: Voice is your distinctive way of telling your story. It comes from three things: Knowledge, Experience, and Confidence.
Let’s look at how each of these will help you find your unique voice:
1—Knowledge: Most things we learn along life’s journey come from others. An apprenticeship of sorts. For sure, medical school was that. So is writing. To write, you must read. See what others are doing and how they’re doing it. Some writing will speak to you, other writing might not. You will gravitate to word choices, sentences structures, and the sound of some writer’s voices and not those of others. Besides reading widely, try this: Go to the library, your local bookstore, or even use the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon, and read the first few pages of 50 books. Some will work for you—-the operative phrase here is “for you.” Take what speaks to you and embrace it in your own writing.
2—Experience: The great Australian writer Bryce Courtney often said that the secret to writing was “bum glue.” Glue your bum to the chair and write. Write every day. Write your way. Copy the styles of writers you like. Not that you will write exactly the same way, but rather elements of their writing that work for you will creep into your own prose. This will evolve over time and before long, like riding a bicycle, you will be off and writing in your own voice.
3—Confidence: This, to me, is the key. Be fearless. Tell your story in your own words, your own voice. Don't worry what others might think or whether it fits the so-called rules. Tell your story your way. Knowledge and experience breed confidence.
Don’t forget that writing is art, then craft. The art is the storytelling; the craft is making it cleaner and more publishable. Don’t let the craft kill the art. Don’t over edit as you go. Write the story fast, write it your way, in your voice, then go back and clean it up. As Hemingway said: write drunk, edit sober. Get drunk on your writing, spill it on the page, then take a sober assessment and fix what needs fixing. Write fast, edit slow.
In the end, your voice is yours. It’s personal. No one else has it. Let it out. Don't handcuff it. Let it guide you through your manuscript. In the end, you’ll have your story, told your way. That’s always the goal, and it’s what agents and editors and, most importantly, readers are looking for.
D. P. Lyle is the Macavity and Benjamin Franklin Silver Award winning and Edgar(2), Agatha, Anthony, Shamus, Scribe, Silver Falchion, and USA Today Best Book(2) Award nominated author of 17 books, both non-fiction and fiction, including the Samantha Cody, Dub Walker, and Jake Longly thriller series and the Royal Pains media tie-in novels. His essay on Jules Verne’s THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND appears in THRILLERS: 100 MUST READS and his short story “Even Steven” in ITW’s anthology THRILLER 3: LOVE IS MURDER. He served as editor for and contributed the short story “Splash” to SCWA’s anthology IT’S ALL IN THE STORY. He is International Thriller Writer’s VP for Education, and runs CraftFest, Master CraftFest, and ITW’s online Thriller School. Along with Jan Burke, he was co-host of Crime and Science Radio. He has worked with many novelists and with the writers of popular television shows such as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Peacemakers, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women’s Murder Club, 1-800-Missing, The Glades, and Pretty Little Liars. Social Media Links: .Website: http://www.dplylemd.com Blog: http://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com Crime & Science Radio: http://www.dplylemd.com/crime--science-radio.html Twitter: https://twitter.com/DPLyleMD FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/dplylemd