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Voice - Part 1

Whether you’re a writer of contemporaries, historicals, fantasy, or crime, the “flavour” you present in your books can make or break you as a writer. I’m talking about voice, I’m talking about style, I’m talking about the way you see the world and the world you build in your books.

You won’t stand out from the slush pile by being the same as everyone else.
No editor is going to leap from their bath, shrieking “Eureka — I’ve found someone who writes just like Marion Lennox! Or Stephanie Laurens. Or whoever.”

It’s like chocolate. There’s no point inventing Cherry Ripe or Mars Bars again, because we already have Cherry Ripe and Mars Bars. We want something just as good — only different. And that’s what publishers want — something just as good, only different.

Would any of us seriously argue that there’s already enough chocolate in the world? Of course not — there’s always room for more good chocolate, as there is for more good romance.

So how can you develop your own brand of choc– er romance?

By discovering the “you” in your writing, by using your own experiences, our own sensory differences, by tapping into small moments into your own life, you can bring a sharpness and individuality to your writing that will make it stand out from the pack.

You bring to your writing a particular view of the world, shaped by your values, your experiences, your aesthetic tastes, your sense of humour. When you write, in a sense, you invite the reader to share your world — and it is your skill of writing which will make that sharing an intense one.

Believe in your way of seeing the world!

A friend of mine used to teach ceramics in an all-boys school. It was a new subject and she was a new young teacher and she had to work very hard to teach the boys that there was more to this “sissy” subject than making clay pellets to flick or throw. One day, in desperation, she conceived a project designed to make the boys really see.

The art room had big old-fashioned windows looking out to the front of the school, through trees to the houses on the hill across the road. Each window was divided into 16 panes. The boys’ assignment was for each of them to take one window pane and make a ceramic plaque of it. The plaques had to be the same size as the window panes and they all had to fit together at the end.

This got the boys interested — for a start, their measurements had to be accurate to fit together, which they respected. As the work progressed, they wrestled with scale and proportion, trying to get their part of the trees and houses etc. right, so not only would it look like part of a tree and houses, but would fit with the adjoining plaques. Some boys initially worried because the inside of their plaque didn’t look the same as other people’s, but my friend reassured them, saying the difference was fine: the only rule was that the boundaries had to join accurately. 

The boys became more and more absorbed. Nobody bothered with pellets any more. Some even came in at lunchtime and after school to work on the plaques.

When the finished plaques were placed together, the result was astonishing. Every plaque had been painstakingly rendered; they joined together perfectly. Each plaque was an accurate rendition of the view from that pane of glass. 

And yet each plaque was utterly unique. The choices in texture, shaping, colour, the amount and style of detail in each reflected the unique perspective of the individual boy artists. In one, the tree branch was flat and thick and crude and bisected a very detailed scene of the houses behind like an intrusive overlay. The same branch was picked up in the adjoining plaque, only in this one the texture of the bark and leaves had been lovingly recreated with every twist and ridge and imperfection, leaves thinned almost to translucency, ready to flutter in the breeze. There were even tiny insects marching across it. The houses behind were stylized and blank.

It was a most beautiful creation. The differences in the plaques was what made the assembled piece so vibrant and so fascinating. And the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. 

It was a marvellous celebration of “voice” and I’ve never forgotten it.

We each have our own pane of glass to look through.

Voice – Part 2 »