Episode 31: The Voice You Cannot Hear
Episode 31 talks about writer’s voice. JT attempts to define voice and where it needs to be used. We also cover the different voices you can use as well as making voice constant throughout your project.
You can listen to the episode right here. The transcription is below the player. Feel free to add your comments using the comment section below.
Episode 31 Transcript
Note: Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and humans, as such, it may contain errors. Please, double-check the audio file before quoting anything from this page.
00:00 [JT Pledger] Welcome to the show, kids! This is episode 31 and earlier this week I posted a blog about voice. I received a few questions about this confusing topic so I thought I would explain writer’s voice this week, as best I can. So stick around and we will discuss the voice you cannot hear.
00:42 [JT] Thanks for hanging around, I probably need a better intro or some more upbeat music. If you know of any I can use, let me know! Anyway, let’s get down to it. Voice, when it comes to writing, is not about speaking. It is something that all writing has and is quite possibly the hardest thing to define.
What is Writer’s Voice?
01:07 So, what exactly is voice? Well, in a nutshell, voice is the rhythm of your writing. It’s the beat and flow that your words follow. It is called voice because when we read the words in our head, that little voice in there takes on a certain tone.
01:29 Let’s see if we can’t get the light bulb to come on when you’re dealing with voice. Because in your writing career, you are going to hear about it a lot. Not just for your manuscript, but for your synopsis and query letter, too.
01:44 By the way, the “light bulb” is something I’ve referred to since high school. It’s that click, or that ah-ha moment when whatever it is you’re struggling with suddenly becomes clear and understood. From the moment the light bulb comes on, you have an understanding of the idea or material and everything becomes easier.
02:10 Voice is not a difficult thing, it is merely confusing. I assume it is because of the name. So instead of the word “voice” let’s think of it as “the beat.”
A Lesson in Voice
02:24 When you write you will notice that your sentences and paragraphs take on a form of their own. You will write with a series of longer sentences where the words are 20 or more words and then throw in a two-word sentence.
02:41 Eventually, as you progress, you will start to see the pattern your writing takes on. It is following a beat. When you read the words in your head they are smooth and flowing as they follow along with this beat.
02:56 Then it is interrupted. A short sentence is thrown in. A choppy dialogue.
03:04 We then return to the longer sentences that establish a good flow or beat in the reader’s mind. The internal voice they hear as they read along gets in a rhythm and begins to beat along. Longer sentences turn into blocks of paragraphs. And then, BOOM.
03:24 Another short sentence. And another. Just a monkey wrench in the beat.
03:33 When you put all of that together, it becomes the book’s voice. The beat that it follows. But here’s the funny thing. The voice is hard to hear when you read aloud or have someone else reading or talking to you. Right now for example. For the last few paragraphs that I have been speaking, I have said the words that followed a certain beat.
A working Example
04:04 If you go to the transcripts page (a link is in the show notes), you will find that section (I will label it “A lesson in voice.”) and be able to see the words on paper as you would in a book. You can see how the long sentences form together and are then broken up by the short, choppy ones.
04:32 This is what voice is. It isn’t just the words we choose to use, but it is how we use them. And the above example is just one way. There are countless ways to use voice. Just as every person on Earth has a unique sound when they speak, so do our words.
04:57 A lot of times, when we are working on our manuscripts, the voice just naturally appears. It really isn’t a conscious thing for most and we continuously put words down until we are finished with the project.
05:15 This is where voice becomes difficult. Because after we are satisfied with our manuscript and want to send it to an agent or a publisher, we have to constantly use the same voice in our correspondences.
05:33 A synopsis letter is usually written to get the attention of an agent before we send out the manuscript. If they like our synopsis, they will ask to see the full script (Excitement??). If the voice doesn’t match, we are doomed. The synopsis must follow the same voice that the manuscript does, and since the script’s voice was generally unintentional, you have to find it.
06:04 One of the common mistakes is that we switch voices between the novel and the synopsis. We tend to have a different mindset and are more “professional” when it comes to the synopsis because it is more formal.
06:23 This is so far from the truth. A synopsis, and to an extent the query letter, are an extension of the manuscript. The flow, choice of words, tone and beat should be the same in all of them.
Everyone Has a Customer Service Voice
06:45 Have you heard of “customer service voice?” That way of speaking when we answer the telephone or talk to someone we don’t know. We can be walking with a friend and talking to them, cutting up, laughing and having a discussion, using our normal talking patterns and tone of voice. Then the phone rings and our tone, verbiage and attitude change.
07:12 Often, our friends will point it out after the phone call is over. And we will resume our natural tone and flow.
07:25 It’s the same thing with your book’s voice. We write our novels in one flow, and tone and beat and then write the synopsis in another. You have to identify the voice in your manuscript and use that for the rest of your writings about it. You can’t switch to “customer service voice” for your synopsis and query letter. That is what the agent or publisher will expect to “hear” when they read your novel and if they don’t hear it, they will become turned off.
Read to Understand
08:06 The best way to identify the voice of your novel is to read it. Read it often. Start paying attention to how you use words and what words you use. For example, if your novel only uses two-syllable words, you can’t use five-syllable words in your synopsis.
08:32 If you write in short sentences and never use more than four words, your synopsis should match. Do you see what I am saying?
08:44 Read the book until you can identify the flow, the beat, how the words resonate when read internally. Then match that when you are writing your synopsis and queries.
09:02 Remember, there isn’t a right or wrong voice to use. It is whatever you make it. Just make sure you are constant and don’t deviate from that voice when dealing with any aspect of the project.
What Are Your Thoughts?
09:24 I hope that has cleared some things up for you about voice. If not, swing by the episode page and leave a comment. I will do my best to answer your questions, or someone else may have a better explanation that clicks on your light bulb!
09:46 I will leave you with that, and until next week, have fun; write words.