She’s a fantastic author, and has been a super-patient with this post which should have gone up some time last year (Sorry, Emily!). Her books are on my Kindle, and they should be on yours, too.
Listen in, as Emily R King talks about that elusive thing, the voice of an author, and offers suggestions on how to develop it.
I am often asked how I got published. I’ve given a lot of to-the-point answers as well as longer explanations that focus on hard work, determination, and luck. The more I think about my eight-year road-to-publication journey, the more I’m certain writers do something pivotal during the process of drafting, revising, querying, and submitting. We find our voice.
Voice is a story element that no one can quite put their finger on. Readers either connect with our voice or don’t. There isn’t much in between. While at SCBWI LA summer conference, I listened to a panel of reputable, high-powered agents discuss what they liked and disliked about manuscript submissions. When the moderator asked them about voice, their clear-cut advice suddenly became vague. They all agreed voice isn’t something they can teach. Voice is there or it isn’t. So how do we find our voice?
Practice. You don’t have to write every day, but you should set goals and meet them. Whether they be daily, weekly, or monthly, write when you can and meet your self-imposed deadlines. The more you write, the more experience you have honing your voice. You don’t have to always finish what you start. Not every story will sing to you. Try to finish drafting the ones that do resonate. Practice every stage of your process, including revisions and line edits. Your voice will become more apparent the more in tune you become with your process.
Read many genres. Research books that do voice well. Usually these books connect with a wide audience or serve their niche in the market. The main character doesn’t necessarily need to be a mouthy teenager or have a Scottish accent or drawl. Their voices should feel relatable, accessible, and build the narrative. If you write chapter books, your voice will be different than if you write YA contemporary. Compare and contrast. Get a feel for where you think your own voice fits. Be mindful that voice is also about sentence and paragraph structure, word choice, point of view, similes, purple prose, etc. What do you do well? What could you improve? Exploring different genres will help you pinpoint where you belong.
Try different genres. Before I found my sweet spot in upper young adult fantasy, I wrote a YA paranormal, a YA contemporary, a YA thriller, and a MG fantasy. My middle-grade got a lot of attention from agents. Every one of those agents came back and said my voice was off. I realized I had the genre right but not the category. Not to say I won’t switch genres in the future, but it’s best to settle upon one genre until you’re established in the marketplace and build readership.
Feedback from critique partners, betas, and agents. Listen to your early readers. If they aren’t connecting with your main character, you could have an issue with voice. Perhaps your character should be younger or older or your storytelling is more suited for sci-fi than fantasy. Whatever feedback you get, listen before you discard it. Thoughtful, constructive critiques can steer us toward tweaking our voice.
Theme We all have causes that are close to our heart. These beliefs and unique viewpoints sneak into our writing. We aren’t out to teach or preach. Our upbringing and how we view the world naturally leaks into our stories. These themes connect us with readers who share similar ideals. Your theme may be general, such as death in Harry Potter, or more plot-focused, such as female equality in The Handmaid’s Tale. Always be thinking of ways to put your authentic self on the page. Whatever is near and dear to your heart is worth exploring. You don’t have to be a bad guy to write one, but some piece of you is that villain. Do you know what piece it is? That’s voice.
Passion Do you like to create complex magic systems? Cozy mysteries? Fast-paced thrillers? Slow-burn romances? Write what makes you happy, what draws you back to your keyboard time and time again. Writing is hard. It’s even harder when you’re ambivalent about what you’re creating.
As you can see, voice belongs to the individual. Honing it takes a combination of practice, reading, open-mindedness, and understanding why you write in the first place. We all have something to share. Don’t write for the market or to please your critique partners. Be authentic. Your voice will emerge and readers will connect with your work.
Emily R. King is the author of The Hundredth Queen Series and forthcoming Evermore Chronicles. Born in Canada and raised in the USA, she has perfected the use of “eh” and “y’all” and uses both interchangeably. Shark advocate, consumer of gummy bears, and islander at heart, Emily’s greatest interests are her four children. She lives in Northern Utah with her family and their cantankerous cat. You can find her at emilyrking.com.
Are you a reader, a writer, or both? As a reader, do you care about the author’s voice? Do you read more short stories or novels? Do you read some authors more than others?
If you’re an author, are you self-published or published traditionally?
Have you read Emily’s work before? As a reader or writer, do you have questions for Emily R King?
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