Unique voice is that elusive quality that all editors and agents say they want in a manuscript. However, when asked to pin it down, you get that frustrating “I know it when I read it” answer.
I have no pearls of wisdom on defining voice, but you do know it when you see it. It’s a stew of syntax and grammar, sentence structure, word usage, phrases, tone, and much more. It’s the secret blend of spices that each author sprinkles throughout his or her work.
Without looking at the book jacket, you only have to sample a few lines (take a few bites?) to tell Hemingway from Faulkner from Welty from O’Connor from Frazen from Morrison from King from Evanovich. Give me one taste from my critique buddies’ work, and I’ll know immediately which one is Mahala’s, Marilyn’s, Wanda’s, and Linda’s. Those women have voice!
After years of working on craft, I felt I was finally finding my own unique voice. More of a peep maybe, but definitely something that was mine alone. Then my life fell apart. Everything I thought I knew was wrong; everything I thought was true was false. My world turned upside down, then inside out. *I* turned upside down and inside out—vulnerable, scared, sick, my bloody insides exposed for all the world to see.
But that wasn’t the worst. I discovered that when you’ve turned inside out, it’s impossible to speak. My voice has been gone a long time. I thought it was gone forever. But as days turned to weeks and weeks to months, I’ve realized that my voice wasn’t really lost. Just hiding.
After 9 months (and I can’t help be aware of the significance of that number), my voice is emerging again. Even more surprising is that I think it’s changed. It’s too soon to tell exactly how, but it tastes different. Richer. Stronger. Less edited. More like me. Just me. Perhaps after months of hibernation, I’ve found my own secret ingredient that sets my voice stew apart from the rest.
Does that mean I’ll be writing horror or erotica (or recipe books???) instead of mysteries and YA? Too soon to tell, but probably not. I am hoping it means that whatever I write—or do—will shine with a voice that can only be mine.