I quoted this last week, but it bears repeating.
“You can always fix plot—you can’t fix voice.” ~ Barbara Peters, editor, Poisoned Pen Press
The second draft is where we strengthen and enhance our writer’s voice. What is voice? It’s the qualities we embed in our writing to such an extent that a reader familiar with our work, faced with several sample paragraphs, could invariably tell which one was ours.
At the simplest level, voice is our writing style
Do we hold ourselves to a high standard of correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation?
How do we construct sentences and paragraphs? How frequently do we use simple sentence verses longer, more complex sentences? No one is going to confuse Ernest Hemingway’s voice with that of Bulwer-Lytton.
How often do we use or avoid using qualifiers and distancers?
- A qualifier is a word that hedges our bets: She was pretty good at tennis./She was good at tennis.
- A distancer is a word that puts distance between the characters and the reader: If Dennis were going to steal the truck, Tom imagined he would do it tonight./Dennis would steal the truck tonight.
On and on through the hundreds of choices that writers make as we craft words.
At a deeper level, voice holds out a promise of more to come
It’s the way we pace a story, what we tell, and what we withhold.
It’s how fair we play with the reader. Are we honoring a fair contract with the reader, one that shows enough that the reader has an ah-ha moment of recognition that she/he knows the character, but still leave enough room for the reader’s imagination to flourish?
It’s the degree we’re open and honest with the reader. If we’re faking it, readers will know.
At the deepest level, voice represents our values
What’s this story worth to us? What’s our audience’s respect worth to us? Where have we let something slide as good enough in the first draft? How much effort are we going to make to turn good enough into above and beyond expectations?
How bang-on is our research?
Is our character development deep and convoluted enough?
Are our characters saying, doing, or thinking things they would never say, do, or think? It’s important to differentiate between what we believe and what our characters believe. I might have a sad, but realistic, understanding that justice is rarely done, but if my character absolutely believes in justice then my voice when I write that character has to reflect that.
Think of voice like the man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz, but in a nice way. It’s what forms and sustains the story we want to tell.
I hope you’ll be back next Tuesday, October 14, for the next part of Second Rewrite — Building Emotional Muscle.
For those of you in Canada, Best wishes for a marvellous Thanksgiving next Monday.