Raise Your Voice

Voice is something that I’ve heard a lot of controversy about in the writing world. It’s something that differentiates you from everyone else: how you speak, how you write, your characters, your world, your ideas. What it isn’t is grammatically related.

When I’m editing a manuscript one of the most frequent complaints I hear is “You’re changing my voice!” The truth is that unless I rewrite the manuscript or pour literary bleach all over it (imagine me cackling evilly if it helps!) I can’t really destroy your “voice”. Your manuscript is your voice and nothing I would change, as an editor, would hurt it.

Voice is your unique, literary fingerprint. Cleaning up your grammar, even adding a few words or phrases, and putting some errant bits together will not damage your almighty “voice”.

There has been an unfortunate trend that I have noticed, also, where authors confuse “voice” with ego. Everything in their work is their “voice” and changing anything immediately becomes an affront to their almighty “voice”. I see this more often with the students (victims) of literary workshops and writing degrees. The emphasis on “voice” there is outrageous and honestly it’s more than is necessary. Much like their emphasis on hating “cliches” but that’s another discussion for another time.

About.com defines “voice” as the following:

Definition: Voice has two meanings as it concerns creative writers:

  • Voice is the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character; or
  • Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of a first-person narrator; a persona. Because voice has so much to do with the reader’s experience of a work of literature, it is one of the most important elements of a piece of writing.

Citation

Those things are difficult for an editor to change by making a few word changes, fixing grammar, and even adding in a whole sentence (God forbid!). Trust me. It’s my job to know these things and changing an author’s “voice” is more difficult than you might think. Keep in mind that your voice is more than simply how you string sentences together – your voice is in the heart of your plot, in the lives of your characters, in the soul of the novel itself. Unless you have an editor that wants to do to your novel what the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” movie did to the television series (yeah, I went there) then you don’t have anything to be afraid of. I promise.

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6 thoughts on “Raise Your Voice

  1. Joe Mazzola says:

    Oh that last part was vicious! 😀

    I once (well, actually, several times) read a book called Ode to a Banker by Lindsey Davis, where some of the characters make a joke about how too many young writers’ literary workshops are spent “trying to find their voice” instead of actually writing.

    And you definitely wrested a chuckle from me at your “victims” quip. Very entertaining and well-thought-out post.

    • E. Harvey says:

      I absolutely agree with you. You don’t need to “find your voice”, you already have it. And if you don’t there’s usually nothing that can be done to save you. Voice is an integral part of writing, but it’s more important to learn the mechanics and then add the flavor. Kind of like in cooking, you need to learn how to make the soup before you can start tossing random things into it. If you don’t have any idea what you’re doing at all then you’ll end up with bathwater that’s vaguely chicken-flavored.

  2. M.E. Anders says:

    The difference between unique voice and poor grammar is quite distinct. As an editor, you realize the impossibility of quashing their voice through manuscript editing. Enjoyed your post.

    • E. Harvey says:

      Thank you. It is indeed absolutely impossible for me to crush a writer’s voice through editing unless I’m rewriting a manuscript (which does happen sometimes if it’s just that necessary). And even then, it’s my job to make sure that their voice isn’t squashed, but at the same time grammatical or writing mechanical mistakes do not a “voice” make.

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