Do You Hear Me?

Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of seven award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert in her “Rhodes” series. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also an occasional potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. Visit her website and Amazon Author Page.

 

This is not a “how to post.” No, more like another one of my mental-meandering-around and thinking about writing posts. (Thinking about writing is often easier for me than actually writing.)

Once again, a Vons grocery store customer started me down the path leading to a post topic. A lovely lady I didn’t immediately recognize, and who after first saying Hi!–and without any segue of any kind—added, “I like your voice!” I certainly was at first confused; but after a bit more back and forth, I realized she was talking about my writing. Consequently, besides being really pleased she read my books, I was also sent down an “author’s voice” writing-memory-lane during my drive home.

  • I had an English teacher in school way-back-when who critiqued one of my essays (must have stung because I still remember) that my piece had no voice.
  • A paid editor once said, your writing sounds too much like you. You need to “neutralize.”
  • On the maybe I can learn side, another teacher told me[i], your voice is much stronger than when you started this class.

From my perspective, I’ve closed books because I was not “in tune” with what I’m dubbing here as the “author’s voice.” I’ve also closed books because I’ve felt nothing. No voice coming through maybe? Purely guesswork, but I’m thinking the “magic mixture” of one’s literary voice is sentence structure, choice of word, lyricism, asides… All knowing Google says, “…Voice is the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character…” Indeed, my internet searches didn’t add much to think about.

Guessing again here, I think some of the same “things” that come through in our writing “author voice,” are the written equivalent expressions of a few pieces of our personalities. Likable or not.

I’m still pondering whether thinking about–or even just the acknowledgment of one’s writing personality is important. And sorry to say, I don’t think I’ve come up with any great answers. Yet. I do believe, despite any “hard-evidence,” your author voice is important to whether a reader enjoys your story—and whether they keep reading your book or pass it on. But I remain open on the question—despite what editors or teachers have said—whether “author’ voice” is an aspect of your writing you can improve upon or change. Your thoughts on the topic on “author voice” are greatly appreciated…

Happy writing trails—and may your voice be heard!


[i] This memory trail goes all the way back to Saturday mornings at Bellevue Community College Adult Education creative writing classes in Puget Sound. (circa mid-1980s!)

Beauty in the Mojave

24 thoughts on “Do You Hear Me?”

  1. I think a lot of editors feel this way, Madeline: “A paid editor once said, your writing sounds too much like you. You need to ‘neutralize.'” To me what they’re really saying is they want to neuter your voice. But I think voice is what makes us unique. And it is us coming through. It’s our point of view and without writing is just mush. So I’m glad you didn’t listen to that editor.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Paul, and especially so early! And thanks for your kind words. I think you’re right, blandness when it comes to author’s voice is probably a goal for some editors. Maybe to make one’s writing more palatable to more people? Personally, now that I’m thinking more about it–dulls one’s work out. Thinking right now, that I’d rather lose a few readers because they are put off by me, rather than put a lot more to sleep (smile!)

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  2. Whatever it is, I agree with the Von’s lady, Madeline. I like your way of describing (word choice; sentence structure), your way of meandering (as in this post) down paths that take your readers in directions (asides) they would not have chosen themselves, but that are delightful, and your “style” of revealing plot and character in such a way that readers are taken aback in a wondering, smiling sort of way and that brings everything together in the end.

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    1. Thank you, Jackie, you’ve made my day of course with your kind words! I’m taking from your words, I’ve definitely not “neutralized,” as Paul mentioned in editor-context. And the more I’ve been thinking about this, not sure how one takes their personality out of their writing… Again, like I said, you’ve really buoyed me up!

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    2. How interesting, Linda, I hadn’t thought about genre when it comes to author’s voice? Changing, stronger, lessening… And then what about for different age groups? You’ve given me more to think about… Thanks for stopping by and your thoughtful comment.

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  3. Great piece Madeline. For me the voice changes with each series. My voice in a historical is vastly different from my voice in a paranormal or my voice in a contemporary. I like what you came up with for your definition of voice. All those things play a part. Maybe I would add in the protagonist as well. I try to have my main character give a bit of flavor to the voice of the book. Good stuff to think about.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Hanna and leaving a comment! Much appreciated. Very very interesting how your paranormal voice is different from historical, contemporary. And YES, the voice for the particular novel needs to be in line with the protagonist and their personalities… Excellent thought–and more to think about that I hadn’t yet put in my mental-meandering…

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  4. Does it sing? I love it when a story does sing, whether it’s in First Person when the main character grabs you by the hand and takes you with him or her through the entire story, or maybe some great dialogue between characters as they tell the story the writer is trying to relate. Even long narrative passages need to sing because they take the reader to far away places or into uncharted territories. Always give me a story that sings to me. And Mad, your stories do just that.

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    1. Me too, Gayle, love it when a story “sings,” and I’m positive voice is part of it. I like the picture of the main character grabbing you by the hand and taking you through the story. Good imagery I think to keep in mind while one’s writing. Thanks! And thanks for your kind words… (Chance McCoy sings to me! Must be something about his voice(smile))

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  5. I’ve “heard” a different voice in each of your books, Madeline, and the voice is part of the reason I love the stories.To me, telling someone to neutralize their voice is like telling them to stifle their voice. Not good advice. I hope one day to have an exchange in the grocery store like you had. That would make my day, as I’m sure it did yours. Excellent post.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Marja! Very interesting on different voices–and here I thought I was always the same. But you’re so right, now that I think back, my books with female protagonists had a different voice than Hugh or Liev–duh! Clearly multiple personalities(and voices) within (smile). And on the grocery store, has happened to me more than once. BUT it’s NOT that I’m popular or widely read–believe me I’m not–it’s just that out here in the part of the desert I live in, there are few places to shop, so you’re often running into people from your little piece of the desert you know either at the grocery stores (Vons and Stater Bros, or at Home Depot) Funny that. And yes, when someone actually recognizes me because of my books, I’m in heaven for days…

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    1. Yes, it is. Tempe Crabtree “sings”(to use Gayle’s words) to me the loudest. Thanks for stopping by, much appreciated because I know you are a most busy lady! Write on, Marilyn…

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  6. To me, your voice is the voice of your characters. Each has his or hers and your own voice comes through the development and rhythm of your story and your characters. If your characters all sound the same in speech and mannerisms, your voice needs work. They need their own way sounding distinct and interesting and when you achieve this you have succeeded. I know and love my characters and it shows, I hope, in my stories or my voice.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Don, and taking the time to share your thoughts. I like your idea that your voice is a lot your character’s voice–and even determined in some respects by the rhythm of your story. Indeed, I think you’re saying author’s voice can be multiple voices–and if they aren’t there, you need to work on it! Also, that the love for your characters should come through in your voice. Good thoughts!

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  7. I recall stories that I abandoned and could not say why. But I suspect the “voice” played a part in my lack of enthusiasm. I had to laugh about the voice “neutralization”—been there! And when an editor suggests I write a phrase I’d never in a million years write—oh, wow! Good post, Madeline. We can all relate.

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    1. That is interesting, Maggie, on why you abandoned those stories. Didn’t “sound” right voice-wise. You’re so right, one of the things we have to get smart about is editors. I am very lucky these days to have two great editors who I trust can “hear.” Very lucky, indeed! Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I’m really enjoying hearing what fellow writers are thinking and I’m expanding my thinking on what voice is in several directions.

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  8. I know we’re supposed to leave our personalities at the door and write in the characters’ voices, but I can’t help but think we writers inject a bit of ourselves or others we know into some of our writing. I agree with all the comments about varying the voices depending on the genre as well. Great post, Mad (and sorry to have missed you today : (

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    1. So sorry I missed you too, Miko. Especially considering how far you come!! Hope you are doing well. Next time for sure! Agree, after all the input I’m receiving we inject some of ourselves in our writing, and I’m leaning heavily toward that’s a good thing! It’s the “extra” dash of that mysterious ingredient that makes our tale taste good.

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  9. Great topic, Madeline!
    I’ve had several friends who have read my books, especially my new release, say “I can tell YOU wrote the book.” Now, of course they know me, but what that tells me is: my voice is coming through. And that makes me smile because, above all else – as people and as writers, I think we need to trust our instincts and be true to who we are.

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    1. Yes, I definitely saw Storyville through the eyes of Kate Morgan, which of course is part of your writers voice (and I only know you electronically) So whatever you’re doing is working just grand. You must indeed be staying true to who you are. I liked how she saw things, felt things, and resolved difficult issues in her emotions and mind. This author’s voice post has taken me in many pleasurable directions–and thinking a lot about what I like to read. And write of course. Thank you for stopping by, Patricia, I always love hearing from you.

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  10. Great Post, and useful. When I am writing fiction I get into ‘character voice.’ Stepping into your characters’ shoes and figuring out how they think and behave, as well as their speech pattern, habits, and body language all contribute to ‘voice,’ and makes writing your characters a lot of fun.

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    1. You bring up a good point, Jill, not yet discussed. The FUN part of voice. You’re absolutely right, especially when it comes to character-voices–(on several occasions I’ve found myself clicking out the side of my mouth while writing about one of my characters–not something moi ever does–but just having a bit of fun and getting into his persona!) Thanks for stopping by and adding a new dimension to this voice discussion.

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