Monday, February 25, 2008

Voice and reading

On the M&B Editors loop, a writer who is just starting out on the journey towards publication (or at least on the early part of the path) said that she did not read romance very much anymore because she was worried about diluting her voice.

The simple answer is reading does not dilute your voice. Your voice is you and is made up of ALL your life experience. It is how you tell a story and those things that are important to you.
There are some writers who never readers, but they are the limited exception rather than the rule. Most writers read and read alot.
I write historical romance because I love the genre. I came to it through my reading. And I dare say that somebody could find echoes of authors in my writing, if they wanted to go fossicking backwards. No writer is an island. But there is also something uniquely me. I simply can not colour within the lines and I can't write like anyone else but me.
Twyla Tharp goes on at some length about this in her book, The Creative Habit. Basically, there are no new ideas under the sun, but it is how those ideas are put together and become an individual's.
Many unformed/inexperienced writers do play around with different styles as they seek to discover their voices. Teenaged writers, mainly because their life experience is limited, are apt to do this. But this is fine as it is good to experiment and to discover what works for your own unique voice and what doesn't. This is why also one of the best things a young writer can do for his or her voice is to live, and to experience the whole range of human emotion. Until you are certain about your own voice, you should not be submitting things for publication. Some people, for a number of reasons, have their voices mature earlier than others. Some voice mature later. Other voices move. The stories people tell in their twenties are not necessarily the same stories they will tell in their fifties.

As a writer, you have to know what makes the story uniquely yours. Why do you want to tell this story? If you had to throw everything about a story, what would be the ONE thing you would keep? What one theme? In other words, what is the story about? What makes it yours?
What makes the characters yours and not some character off the shelf? Why is that hero yours and not someone else's? Hint: it wll come down to inner character/true character, the sorts of things that are only revealed when pressure is applied and choices made rather than physical characteristics.
Knowing what makes a story yours means you can start working with your voice.
Anyway, reading is important for a developing writer. Discovering what works and what doesn't work for your voice. It is possible to admire other writers, while knowing what they do with their voice is something you can never do with yours. Reading can also help give you distance from your own work. And analysing why something works or does not work in someone else's work can help make you more objective in your work. To improve your work, you must be able to examine it and still have it keep its place in your affections.
It is always about trying to make the best possible read for that unique subset of readers -- yours. And they are reading you, because of your voice, not because you are a pale imitation of someone else.

So never be frightened to read. And when you come to something that you love, take the time to anlyse why it speaks to you as a person and as a writer. it is some thing you can use and make your own.Or is it just something, you can admire.


Jen Black said...

Is this loop a private one Michelle?

Michelle Styles said...

No, not private. YOu find in the Q&A section of the Write Stuf on eharlequin.
They are also doing a month long in depth look at the lines editted out of Richmond...

Jen Black said...

Thanks - I'll track it down - sounds useful!