The Importance of Voice (Lessons from #Theareads)

Last week, in celebration of the end of my degree, I read twelve books in two days while live-tweeting and liveblogging my reactions. It was glorious. Not only were these books ones I’d been waiting a long time to read, but reading them and commenting on them all in such a short space of time taught me a few things about both writing and life in general. The first was that I love reading stories and there ain’t no amount of required university readings to stomp out that love. The other lessons, though, are worth spending a little more time on. Here’s the first:

The Importance of Voice

Voice and its value has been preached from many a blog post, telling writers to develop it, cultivate it, for it is their best friend. It’s how you, unique in all the world, write, and readers flock to the voices that resonate with them.

Before this event, I thought this was all overhyped. Turns out? It’s true.

Here’s the thing: All of the authors I read during Thea Reads are authors that I know, at least a bit, online. I’ve read their Twitter feeds, their blog posts, their Facebook status updates. We’ve conversed through email. I’ve had time to get to know them a bit, and they are all people that I like and respect in some way. When it came time to read one or five of their books for the event, I introduced them and summed up what I like about them and their books in a couple of sentences. And then, after each book, I wrote a short review of them, again focussing on what I liked.

(If you’re wanting to learn about voice, pay attention. I just gave you some exercises you can do. :D)

After a day and a half of this, I realized something: the things that were typical about their books were the things that I loved about them as people.

The biggest strength of Liana Brooks’ books is the characters. They’re smart, witty, and feel so real that it wouldn’t surprise me to meet them in person one day, super powers and all. Liana herself? Smart, witty, and down-to-earth.

The biggest strength of Stant Litore’s books is their creative paradoxes. He puts together things that, on the surface, wouldn’t seem to hold together, and then turns them into something beautiful and poignant. As a person, Stant is thoughtful, wacky, and genuinely caring.

Holly Lisle? Twisty-as-heck plots. As a person? She loves a challenge, works hard, and has a great sense of humour (which uses the same kind of thought processes you need to make a really neat story twist).

Emily Casey? Fun, fun, fun, fun. As a person? She has this knack for not just noticing delightful things, but also for showing them off so that others can take delight in them with her.

Krista D. Ball? Her emotional arcs are superb. It’s not unusual, as a reader, to go through five distinct emotions over the course of one chapter with the characters, many involving dry humour. As a person? Don’t let her self-deprecating jokes fool you: she can communicate and connect with emotions in even the most mundane of situations.

What about first time authors?

Then we get to Teddi Deppner, whose story, The Author Collector, is her debut book. This was the first time I’ve ever read someone’s first book without having previously read their later works.

Madeleine L’Engle, aka my favourite author ever, is one whose books sit on my shelf and get read and re-read on a semi-regular basis. When I finally read A Small Rain, her very first book, the experience was quite educational. First of all, it wasn’t as good as her later books, but that was to be expected. What I didn’t expect was how it wasn’t as good. It wasn’t about the quality of her story, per se, the flow of her writing, or her characters. The single greatest difference between the effectiveness of that book and her later books was that her later books had less of what wasn’t her and more of what was.

That’s it.

I’ve seen this in other fields, too: music, art, TV and movie direction (I’m thinking of Joss Whedon in specific for this one), acting, video games. The earlier a work is in someone’s career, the more they try to do what they think they should do because that’s what other people do or told them to do. The later in their career, the more they do because of who they are. A Small Rain contains whispers, hints, and strong, silvery threads of all that makes Madeleine L’Engle’s later work so worth reading. She’s already there in the beginning, just hidden, and the stuff that hides her becomes less and less over time.

What does this mean for Teddi’s voice?

Well, I already love her ability to write a really tense story. SO MUCH TENSION. Not only that, but she seemed at her best when she drew back the veil and said: “these are the consequences of things we’re already doing and thinking.” In other words, there was real thought behind the story, and a sense of her trying to build something in the reader’s mind so that they could be engaged in putting the pieces together while she slowly revealed more and more until the whole picture came uncovered.

Will those be the main things people eventually love about her work? I have no idea. Those are only the glimmers, the shadows of what is to come.

Even still, knowing her, I can make an educated guess. Teddi is creative, comes at things sideways, enjoys life, and takes delight in seeing the world differently than usual. As she relies more and more on what she already has, I predict that what she’ll write will be mind-bending in a way that we see not just her stories differently, but also the world around us.

I may be predicting wrong. This might not end up being the fore of what she writes, but only part of what readers will eventually love. But I know this: there is something in the core of The Author Collector that I love, and I know that that comes straight from Teddi, and that it will continue to be revealed over time. I can’t wait to find out more about it.

We read authors over and over because we feel we know them, and because we like these people we have come to know.

When you write a story, your voice isn’t your style. It isn’t your genre or preferred plot. Voice is being who you are. It’s about letting go of everything that isn’t you and letting who you really are shine without impediment.

It’s that simple.

It’s that difficult.

And it’s that important.

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