Lies, Love, & Magic: How Voice was Hijacked by Editor Mysticism & Workshop Critique BS!

The sought after and mysterious “voice” of writing.  You watch editors salivate like Derridean defeatists about how magical voice can be when it “makes your foot tap to the rhythm.”  Aww, how romantic.  We are lovely romantic beings who need magic in our lives.  Well, I’m about to take the magic out of the what, where, and how to find a literary voice.

Yelling BoyFor writers, we don’t give a shit about magic.  Our job is to deconstruct the process and lay it all out for other writers.  We are here to help each other learn the tricks to make the magic happen for readers, which is why editors love to talk about the mysterious quality of writing.  Because ultimately they are fans of literature.  They are readers.  We reader/writers–the ones who create the magic–must abandon all notions of romanticism.  We’re here to work.  Why?  Because we love the secrets of writing as much as we love the process.  Because we love to make the magic and watch the readers read in awe.

So if you’ve hit the google machine with a “how to find your voice” or “what is voice in literature” or “what is a writer’s voice” then you’ve come to the right spot.  I’m about to break this bad boy down.

First and foremost I need to tell you what voice is not.  So when we go to write we need the reader to see what we see as writers.  The reader needs to be able to visualize the scenes as they play out in the course of our short story or novel.  That is the action.  That is description.  The nuts and bolts.

Singing FemaleFor example, if I write, “Dean took a step forward and gazed at the interesting ropes above.”  That is me describing action.  This is the story.  I’m going to say that again and put it in bold letters for emphasize.  Okay, here goes:  Action is the story.  This is not the voice.  The story is the most important part of writing.  Not voice.  I’ll dispel voice in this post and then you can get to the real work: writing the story.  It is the first and last thing you need to be thinking about when writing your short story or novel.  You need to be focused on scene selection.  Select your scenes in the sequence in which lays out the action to conclude on the climax.  Scenes are the walls and floors of the house.  Action and description are the nails and mortar holding the walls and floors together.

Now it’s time to decorate the house. Now “voice.”  Ready to dilute your desperate need for magic.  Ready to grow up as a writer.  Here goes.  Voice is simply the insight, wisdom, and judgements of the narrator.

So now I can hear people yelling at the computer screen.  You need to take a breath.  Life is not that hard.  Take a minute and let me elaborate.  I’ll prove myself right.  Oh, no wait, I’ll allow you your “voice” and let you be the judge of that.

Hearing Recording ChiefSo let’s take the previously used example and rearrange it.  Go back up and read if necessary.  It was straight forward description.  Now if I insert voice it might sound like, “Dean impulsively stepped forward (might know)–did his best to understand the intersecting ropes above.”  So with the quick insertion of an adjective “impulsively” and a quick but subtle judgement “did his best” I’ve cast judgement on Dean’s actions.  And the addition of (might know) is a Kiowa cultural judgment, so the “voice” is Kiowa and it is being judgemental of Dean’s action.

You can follow up the sentence with a bit of judgemental wisdom and add, “Still a monsape tali for his age (mid twenties) and you know how they say tali brains don’t develop as fast a mautaun.”  So I’ve inserted a lot of Kiowa language into that one sentence but you can quickly assess by context the “voice” is making a judgement on the main character.  By deduction and pop culture, you participate in the reading and deduce tali means boy and mautaun means girl.  Why? Because it’s commonly understood male brains develop slower than female brains.

All I did was use judgement, insight, and wisdom.  That’s it.  Nothing else.  I did a little sentence play, and did my hyperlocal thing (indicative of my writing style).  But I argue this:  those pauses don’t come until first you cast judgement, insight, and wisdom.  I believe this to my core.  So much so, I challenge you to take a straight forward sentence in your own story, add judgement (good or bad, love or hate doesn’t matter), and all of a sudden you’ll start putting in pauses and/or running sentences long.  It is the judgement, insight, and wisdom that shapes the sentence.  Hear me say that again: It is the judgement, insight, and wisdom that shapes the sentence.

The Kiowa and hyperlocal tone all comes from judgement, insight, and wisdom.  All our families and communities have it regardless of culture. In fact, as my mind starts to process the three aspects I mentioned, the tone of the community comes out.  It is taking our mind space and inserting the value judgements which are already imbedded in us and using it as a tool to rearrange sentences.  That’s how you get those amazing sentences the great writers write, and that’s how they developed their “voice.”

My favorite writers are N. Scott Momaday, Louise Erdrich, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Alice Munro, and Junot Diaz.  Take your pick.  Go read their work, and then come back to me and tell me I’m wrong.  In fact, I dare anyone to try to argue differently.

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(Images used in this post are not the property of the author.  They were borrowed from Wikipedia, PxHere, and Pixabay)

17 thoughts on “Lies, Love, & Magic: How Voice was Hijacked by Editor Mysticism & Workshop Critique BS!

  1. Thank you. I am a painter, not a writer, and I see a lot of similarities. I have seen countless images in my life, and my visual “voice” lies within the filtering and distilling of what I have seen, and within the forms of expression I choose from those.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Awesome! Be critical as you engage in writing advice (including my own, lol). You’ll do great. Let me know if you have questions on writing. I’ve had a lot of education on the topic. Click my image on my website to see my bio.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Voice is important. Don’t get me wrong. It’s very important in fiction. But writers put so much energy into voice they forget people/readers are reading to be consumed by a story. I’ve seen time and time again where a writer is stronger in story than they are in voice and their writing resonates with a wide audience. Genre fiction is the perfect example of this phenomenon. In the literary world, where I live, there is a gross romanticism about voice. We writers at heart are dreamers, and we want the romantic to be true. But the reader is most interested in the story, and the voice is the “sugar that helps the medicine go down,” if you will. I can see how in poetry it can be different. But I’d challenge you to take a step back from voice and look at other dynamics within your poetry, maybe certain qualities you might be missing. It’s good to step outside our comfort zone. But that’s probably just me. I live in the discomfort zone, lol. 🙂 I have to remind myself most people don’t. Thank you for giving something to think about. I’ve not considered this aspect against poetry, but I think you make a strong point.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think when writing poetry, the concept of voice is still important. It is what makes your poetry stand out, what makes it special between hundreds of other pieces. Maybe it is just a superb sense of composition, who knows?!

    John O’Donohue describes finding the voice of yourself as a poet as finding the Otherness within yourself. I found that perspective most interesting.

    Your argument against the emphasis on voice while writing prose seems convincing though.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you TJ. I was the same way. It took me years and years. Hen when I found it. It would slip away and I’d have to work to regain it. Once is started to personally analyze how I employed my voice then all of a sudden I could see how other authors also did the same. It was the same process. But no one explained it to me. I think it’s because they didn’t know themselves. No one explained it to them. Once it became clear, I read other authors could see how they were implementing voice. Then I figured out the trick. So I decided to share. Thank you TJ for sharing your process. I very much appreciate it. Each of us our different and we go about it in our own special way. It’s good to see other writers process so we can better understand our own.


  6. I have always been a writer, but by avocation. I have reached an evolution. For myself once I found my voice I waited another tens years before using it. I no longer have to think about it, though I’ve been told that mine is a “mind of many rooms”. One might be inclined to say I wish I’d found the voice earlier. That is wrong though. I’ve always had this voice, it’s just been a long time learning how to use it. Nice article Oscar 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You are very welcome. It’s interesting the “how to” books and courses always skirt this topic. We writers should be helping each other understand the practical approaches of how to make the magic happen. Thank you! Let me know if you have any questions.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes! I’m very glad this post inspired you to write. And having the same taste in literature to boot. Please share with all your writing friends. It’s time to dispel the magic and empower writers. Thank you Victoria. You’ve lit up my morning.


  9. When I reached the end, I realized one reason I so completely resonate with your words — we love the same writers. The value of this blog post is priceless, and I am so very grateful to be the recipient of your hard-won knowledge. Very thankful for this precious gift which inspires me to write! #AmWriting

    Liked by 2 people

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