Liars Club

You are speaking, but no one hears you.

by Simmons on September 23, 2010

in Advice for Writers,The Writing Life,The Writing Process

Burning Question: What is the Writer’s Voice?

Writers often obsess about their story ideas.   And whether they should outline or not.   And if they need more subplots.  And whether they’ve produced well-rounded characters.

And yes, these things are important.  But none of them are worth a nickel without a strong voice.  In fact, if you asked me to create a Publication Equation, it would be Unique Voice + Unique Story Idea.  (The cynical part of me might be temped to say + Rocking Author Platform, but today I’ll be a purist.)

Now, I hear a chorus of grumbling from people who think Voice is a namby-pamby word with a slippery meaning.  And those people, I guarantee, are struggling writers who always write in third person.   So if you’re having trouble getting your work read, seen, or purchased, and you always write in third person because that’s the voice of the great American Novel, I ask you to start paying attention to First Person.   Re-read some great first person novels. Read some great short stories (Wells Tower’s collection should get your juices flowing) and enjoy their unique flavor.

Pah, you say.  First person is too small!  First person won’t hold my cool, twisty plot!

Yes, I reply.  But your third person voice probably lacks what first person has:  intimacy.  It is most likely too cold, too distant, to have a distinct voice.

Learn from first person.  Roll up your sleeve, get the tourniquet, and  Inject a little first person into your third person.

Kelly Simmons is the author of Standing Still (Simon & Schuster) and coming in February, The Bird House Learn more at www.bykellysimmons.com Kelly’s post is part of an ongoing series in which Liars each chime in on a burning question about publishing.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Watt September 23, 2010 at 10:58 am

I personally love first-person, as well as swapping it out for third-person in alternating chapters. However, an agent turned me down last year for the sole reason of “not connecting” with a first person narrative. I worked hard to make that narrator’s voice different from others I have written so…? Is it still a crapshoot when it comes to publication?

Gerri George September 23, 2010 at 12:25 pm

I’m going to get Wells Tower’s story collection, Kelly. Thanks for the tip. I do need more examples of contemporary first person point of view to evaluate my potential use of it in my own fiction

Kelly Simmons September 24, 2010 at 9:30 am

Hey Mike —

Some editors reject something because they’ve just seen a slew of it done badly. And some editors have a personal preference for one POV over another, definitely. I had an editor tell me once, “I hate first person from a child’s point of view. It is so over-done.” But look at the success of The Curious Case of The Dog in Night-time, or Room, which debuted last week. I wasn’t arguing for first person, though; I was urging people to make their third-person less flat and cold. That is a mistake a lot of authors make in third person. Good luck!!

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