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Friday, April 08, 2011

Guest Blog by Thomas Smith I am happy to offer some helpful insights on finding your writing voice from author Thomas Smith. He and his publisher have also offered to give away a copy of his book Something Stirs to one of our readers who leaves a comment on this blogpost, so post away. I will draw the winner for this book as well as my regularly scheduled book drawing on May 1st, so by leaving a post here (with contact info) you are entered in two book drawings!

Finding Your Voice by Thomas Smith

When I first started writing, I read a lot of Charles L. Grant, Stephen King, Joe R. Lansdale, and Robert McCammon. I thought I wanted to be a horror writer. I had a file full of ideas about vampires, werewolves, haunted houses, malformed creatures created by a combination of man’s vanity and recombinant DNA, zombies, ghouls, and a smattering of ghosts for good measure. Armed with those ideas and the Berlin Philharmonic playing Stravinsky's Firebird Suite: Infernal Dance in the background, I was off and running.

Consequently, my first attempts at writing fiction sounded a lot like cheap Charles L. Grant, Stephen King, Joe R. Lansdale, and Robert McCammon knock-offs. The writing wasn’t necessarily bad (OK, my first three novels stunk like dead fish), but it also wasn’t me. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it doesn’t help much when you’re trying to blaze your own trail.
To find your own voice.
OK, Now What?
I realized that, though I was being rejected, editors were writing short notes on the rejection letters. They were writing things like, I really like the description, but … or You are a really strong storyteller, but … and the ever popular I really like this story, but...

So what’s a fellow to do?
I kept writing. I kept producing fiction that sounded like someone else. In the mean time I started going to various writers conferences and joined a writers group. The conferences exposed me to professional writers who were willing to share their knowledge with those of us who were just starting out, and the writers group was one of those where everyone was required to bring something they were working on regularly for the rest of the group to evaluate.

That’s when I learned the secret.
What’s The Secret, Mister Tom?

The two things that I learned are pretty basic, but they also get straight to the heart of finding your own voice. The first thing is the actual idea of the writer’s voice. What exactly is it?

A writer’s voice is the way the words move and flow. It is the way all the composite parts of our writing fit together as a whole. It is the thing that makes each person’s writing unique. Often you can identify a writer’s work by the way the words look and sound on the page. It is style plus a hard to define “something else” that sets them apart. Something you develop without being aware you are doing it. For example, read passages from your favorite authors. Notice what makes each one different from the next – the thing that lets you know it is their work. That’s their voice.

The next element of finding your own voice comes from practice. Find the feelings of the words. Words evoke responses, feelings and emotions. Some words are powerful (thunder, commanding, explode, terror, grandeur). Some words are peaceful (tranquil, flowing, sigh, velvet, sunset).

And it is through constant repetition – writing on a regular basis – that you get a feeling for the language. And as you write, rewrite, revise, and write some more, your own voice will emerge.

My novel, Something Stirs, releases this spring. You can read an excerpt on my web site: www.thomassmithonline.com (and yes … it is Christian horror)

Follow me on Facebook (http://profile.to/thomassmithwriting) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/tsmithwriting).

10 comments:

Sylvia A. Nash said...

I wonder how we know when we've found our own voice--when an agent or an editor tells us or when our writing feels comfortable to us? I'm still working on this. I'm glad, Thomas, that you were able to find your voice AND write what you wanted to write.

Jerri Ledford said...

I never really thought about finding my voice, but in reading this post I realized that somewhere along the way I did. I've been writing for a long time. And over time (and hundreds of thousands of words) I guess it developed naturally.

I suppose that's why the tell writers to write, even when they think it's bad, eh?

Jennifer said...

Great interview! I wonder if there's a process--writing w/ your voice, albeit technically flawed, floundering through critiques, losing your voice to settle in and find it once aain.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the idea of Christian horror. What a beast to tackle! Wishing your book the best, Thomas!

Jeannie
the character therapist

Thomas Smith said...

Hi everybody. Thanks for the kind words. And Sylvia, I think you're on to something important. When the writing starts to feel comfortable and you develop a sort of flow when you write (even in those times when the words come slowly) that matches the "little narrator" in your head, you're finding your voice. Voice is mainly the thing that sets your writing apart from the others.
Thanks again,
Thomas Smith

Greta Gardner said...

I remember reading something about Truman Capote. He said he found his voice while he was swimming and submerged beneath the water. I never forgot that. It must have been twenty or twenty five years ago. Thanks for the insights, Thomas.

Cheri Horgan said...

Very informative, and it confirms what I felt inside about remaining true to ourselves in our writing. I have always felt if I allowed another to write a piece of my work it would be so obvious everyone would know it. Like suddenly having half a picture come out in black and white and the rest in color. I would very much love to read your christian fiction Horror genre! My book nerd daughter (who is 20)has long been a fan of horror and loved Twilight (as poorly written as it was) and other vampire, werewolf, zombie, or scary themes. I have recently introduced her to Christian fiction in the works of Mary Connealy and Jenny B Jones and she has loved it...but still misses her genre. When Mary pulled an April Fool's prank and led us to believe she was writing a historical fiction with a werewolf, everyone got so excited...but most excited was my daughter (who wrote all her friends to tell them about it!) and we were all disappointed to learn it was a joke. I really want this giveaway of your book to read what can be offered in Christian Fiction in the way of scary or horror writing!!! My daughter just wants it to read and share with friends. Thanks, Cheri Horgan (cherihorgan@hotmail.com)

Jeff Reynolds said...

Thanks for the great comment. When I was younger, I tried to write like the stories I enjoyed reading (back then it was Stephen King and Allistair MacLean). I then took a 20+ year break from writing fiction. Now, I've written another novel, and I feel I'm being more myself. Hope that helps me have a good voice. (BTW, I've been writing sermons and editorial letters and devotionals and blogs, so I still have some writing experience.)

Kenneth said...

Thanks for the information. I've tried to learn more about voice, wondering if I were writing the way I thought or the way I've read. Not an easy thing to do when you realize you probably like to read others who have a similar voice. But I think the advice to keep writing and let your voice present itself is right on target.

Lorilyn said...

Great post on writing.