Understanding Your Writing Voice

This idea is a drain I’ve been circling around for awhile, but the deeper I get into writing, editing, world-building, and looking at it all from a broader perspective, the more pieces are falling into place.

I received some interesting feedback recently. Another writer annihilated the first chapter of my story, writing more comments about how wrong it was than I had words in the chapter. This writer took time out of his day and offered a very brutal perspective, which I can never appreciate enough.

However (dot dot dot):

I had to think long and hard about each of the comments, and all of them combined as a whole. In the end, I came to an interesting conclusion: you’re probably expecting me to say he was wrong. Nope. But he wasn’t right either.

The comments went against the market norm for fiction novels, advice and expectations from agents and publishers, and my own personal preference for a great story.

Writing stories that I love, in a voice that makes me want to cozy up to a warm fire and forget the world around me, is a nostalgic thrill that’s hard to describe. Setting it down for weeks, then returning to a polished story and reading it again is like coming home to a beloved universe you hate to let go of when the back cover is closed.

They’re not just written for me, though. My goal is to share these stories with others that love the same things that I adore, peers (readers and writers alike) who share a single passion. Sword and sorcery, horses and medieval lore, dragons and exotic worlds, cold derelict starships and scarred emotions, vicious villains stubborn personalities.

I love all of this, but also understand that to tell a good story isn’t enough. It must be a great story, one that leaves holes in the details so the reader can fill in the gaps and personalize your story. Novels need to have a mystery to uncover, feeding the reader a trail of breadcrumbs that shines light on the shadows, scraping back the layers little by little.

There are tons of articles on the web about understanding the market for your genre, and I agree whole-heartedly. Though, for us amateur writers (which I will be until I make that first sale), understanding the market from the outside is a bit more difficult. Learn what you can, and once you’re on the other side of the door, it will be easier to put all your learned knowledge to use.

However, I think a large piece of the puzzle is also to understand who you are as a writer. What do you love to read? Do you like thrills and chills, or long, detailed origin stories? Are you willing to dive into uncomfortable subject matter (sexuality, rape, torture, etc) and really detail it out for your story, or do you skirt the uncomfortable stuff like a hypochondriac?

Critique partners and beta readers are an invaluable asset. If you’ve never worked with one… get at least three. They are amazing, insightful, and will put a glaring spotlight on all the problem areas of your manuscript without mercy.

But… it’s important to understand your voice. What is your story attempting to convey? What is the expectations you have for the flow, pacing, style of words, etc? What genre/fan-base are you targeting or attempting to build into? What are the expectations of agents and publishers? Knowing this, and understanding your focus will help authors to take in that 95-99% of feedback and know how/why/where it fits into your edits and why it makes the story better. It also helps authors determine when they’ve received feedback that should be questioned, or pushed back.

Or even ignored.

Shhh… I didn’t say ^that.