Each writer has a unique voice, that conglomeration of tone and word choice that makes our work as individual as we are. Strong voices stand out, catch our attention, resonate with us, and draw us into their stories. Voice gets a writer noticed and is what makes a reader react in a love-it-or-hate-it-way.
It is not enough to merely have a great story. Think of your favorite book. Your all-time favorite, read-over-and-over, spine-worn-and-dog-ear-paged book. Now, concentrate. What kind of voice does it have?
What if that book used another voice? For instance, try a layer of Jane Austen. Or Michael Crichton. Or Erma Bombeck. How would that story change? Do you still want to read it?
Think of your current WIP. Imagine it having a completely different voice. What happens to it?
Do you still want to write it? Does it inspire you to new heights?
A story without its voice is like mashed potatoes without salt. Sure, you can still consume it and it probably won't kill you but it lacks a very necessary flavor. And flavor makes all the difference.
Just as each recipe has its own unique flavor, each story must have its own perfect voice and it must be consistent throughout the story. A voice that changes half-way though will invariably confuse the reader. A voice that changes as frequently as my daughter changes clothes on the weekend (she's a touring-Cher-in-training) will baffle a reader completely and perhaps even make her lose interest in the book.
It's not enough for a writer to find that perfect voice—the writer must keep it. Consistency is key.
Writing my debut and its sequels used a voice similar to my own—the MC is just sassier and she dates a demivampire. Channeling that voice was easy compared to some of my other work and I'd jumped in and out of her POV with relative ease. I suppose part of that is because I wrote those books in chunks of free time, before work or waiting for the kids to get out of school. I was surrounded by my life and times so a layer of myself is written into the voice.
My other WIPs use different voices compared to Sophie and her saga. Although they are all fantasy novels, they are different kinds of fantasy—adult traditional, contemporary YA, militant magic realism—and they each have their own voice. None of them use a voice similar to anything I walk around with in my head all day.
Lately, I've been moving back and forth between projects, trying to keep several editors happy at once. It would be a heck of a lot easier if they were all the same kind of projects...but, no. I have to go and try to impress my husband by showing him how versatile my writing can be.
Thus, a challenge presents itself.
Fortunately, I have "blinders" I can wear so that I keep my voices straight while writing. Most times, a quiet room and a moment of concentration are all I need, but owning children and a dog and a telephone hinder those simple requirements. Good thing I've learned to adapt to my environment with the use of gentle reminders.
Certain types of music help me stay in voice. I've got a huge music collection and I can usually find the right CD for the job. Music has become an integral part of writing, to the point where I have playlists for every project. (Just in case a studio ever needs a soundtrack to my book's movie. I like to be prepared.) Movie soundtracks are also helpful since the music is often theme oriented—especially instrumentals or foreign language soundtracks, since they provide the right mood without distracting me with words.
Speaking of movies, a DVD playing in another room will often keep me focused on my tale—I chose the movie based on the genre, the actors, the sounds of their voices. It's kind of like writing in a coffee shop or some other public place, surrounded by the people and the sounds of the world I'm creating. When you're writing fantasy, you can't always take a day-trip to an alternate world and hang out with demivampires or magic-using dissidents.
My ears aren't the only assets that need to be reminded when I'm writing. Particular types of clothing can often help me maintain the right flow.
Usually, a good pair of boots will do it. I've a pair of flat-heeled Colin Stuarts that make a nice sharp clack when I walk, providing a cadence for a group of mage-born freedom fighters. My biking jacket, light enough to wear indoors, is perfect when channeling my inner repo man for a character who works for her dad at their magical pawn shop. (It's close enough to the one my character wears when she's out on a collateral recovery operation.)
And although I usually don't plan it, my kitchen aprons (yes, I wear aprons. I know. The coolness is overwhelming) remind me enough of my traditional fantasy healer's skirts that I often find myself wandering along her story lines while I'm baking or making tomato sauce.
I don't think I'll ever go so far as to pull my old Ren Faire costumes out of the wardrobe but who knows—maybe one day I'll strike upon a new idea involving Shakespeare (and the undead, of course) and I'll spend my writing mornings trussed up like a courtier. God save the Queen! (Because the zombies are coming.)
Why stop there? Scent also has a powerful effect on memory. Perhaps a scented candle or a room spray are enough to evoke the mood that will keep you rooted in the character--and keep you writing in voice. The same goes for taste--small wonder why my series' heroine is never too far from a Starbucks.
Sight, touch, hearing, taste, and smell--these tips make use of my senses in order to keep hold of my writer's voice. Maybe it's cheating...but I call it craft.
When it comes to writing our stories, voice is everything. Let's hear yours--do you have a favorite method of keeping hold of your writer's voice?
Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who resides in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal region, where she keeps the book jacket for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" in a frame over her desk. Visit Ash's blog at www.ash-krafton.blogspot.com for news on her newly released urban fantasy "Bleeding Hearts: Book One of the Demimonde" (Pink Narcissus Press 2012).