Editors and agents are forever saying they want to find a strong voice, a fresh voice, a compelling voice.
But what is voice?
During the Novel Revision Retreat, we had a real live editor who could answer this for us firsthand. In her presentation,"Talking the Talk: Developing Voice and Narration," Julie Romeis defined voice as ... drumroll, please ... "kind of indefinable."
OK, so like everything else in this business, there are no easy answers. Still, Julie did share some helpful advice for those of us struggling with voice and narration, including:
1. Don't be afraid to experiment with point of view. Play with writing your novel from different characters' points of view, and from third-person point of view (omniscient and close). Dare to try something different. The Book Thief is narrated by Death itself. The Lemony Snicket books have an author-as-narrator-as-character. In both of these examples, the authors write portions in the second person, addressing "you," the reader.
2. Though tough to define, voice can be characterized by certain qualities. Among the qualities that make up "voice" are sentence lengths, word choice, rhythm and diction. Voice speaks to the age, gender and education level of your main character(s) and sets the tone for your story.
3. You can't please everyone. Some people love Lemony Snicket's books, some despise them. Don't worry about appealing to everyone. Tell your story the way you need to tell it. That said, your voice does need to be believable and suited to the intended age group.
Thus end my notes from the Novel Revision Retreat. Many thanks to Julie for all her hard work preparing for the retreat and for allowing me to share some of the highlights here. Your thoughts on voice, revision, first pages and any other aspect of writing are welcome!