Voice is the distinction that makes your writing unique to you. When writing women’s fiction, it’s everything. Readers can forgive a lot, if you tell a story in that particular voice they have come to expect.
There are four authors that I have talked about before, reviewed their books, what I liked or didn’t like. They are (in alphabetical order), Elizabeth Berg, Jonathan Franzen, Scott Spencer and Anne Tyler. These are all authors of great fiction, women’s fiction or everyone’s fiction, and if presented with a paragraph from any of these authors’ writings, I believe I could tell you which of the four wrote it, because I’ve studied each one, and can recognize his/her voice.
Voice comes from that unique combination of environment, and time, and geographic location, along with a bazillion other things that make each writer different from the next. Add to that, the traits of each individual, how one might be introverted and a deep thinker, one might be gregarious and the life of the party, and varying degrees of each of those traits. One is artistic, one is pragmatic, one is a story teller, one is a good listener. One is beautiful, one is plain, one is brilliant, one is of average intelligence. On and on.
Add to that the difference in values over time, the changes in attitude, over the course of, say, the last fifty years. The generation of our parents (“our” being the baby boomer generation), from their constricted you-made-your-bed-now-lie-in-it values to our free love “me” generation. From before women’s lib to after. You can see how the voice of an older person might be way different from the voice of a person thirty years younger.
Each person’s unique experiences add to their voice: the dialects of their birthplaces, the way they were brought up, their education, friends, spouses, children, pets. Their attitudes and beliefs. When you think about that, how every person has a unique set of experiences and traits and environmental factors, then it’s safe to say that every person has a voice, and that voice is different from any other’s.
You just have to find it.
With practice, I believe writers find what works for them and what doesn’t. The first novel may not express it, the second may be a bit better, hopefully by the third, the writer can identify the sound that identifies his or her unique sound, without trying to mimic others. Their tone, cadence, rhythms, choice of words and expressions. Their politics, internal thoughts, hangups and peculiarisms.
I think I have identified mine. From my third novel Perigee Moon (I dropped the “The”), this is a paragraph about Abby, who has recently reconnected with Luke, and they have just had their first, wonderful weekend together, discovered they live within thirty miles of each other, and he has asked her for her contact information. And so she waits for him to call, because she is a product of her time. Who among us women of a certain age can’t remember that angst, waiting for a call that may or may not come?
Abby wishes she’d have asked Luke for his numbers too. It is 2011, after all and women are allowed to call men. She works outside in the garden for an hour or two each day, then goes inside. Maybe he’s called. She checks voicemail, checks caller id for a number which could be his. Monday goes by, then Tuesday. How long did he intend to wait? Maybe he’s had second thoughts, which was always the problem, people had second thoughts, decided no, that hadn’t really been such a good idea after all. By Wednesday, she decides, figures out, that he probably won’t call — if he’d been serious, surely he’d have done it by now — but still she hopes, and when the phone rings after dinner and caller id says “Private” she feels hopeless but answers it, just in case. It’s possible, people could be “Private” too, isn’t it? But it isn’t, it’s the Democrats asking for donations, time or money. No, no! She wants to yell at them. Leave me alone, just don’t ask me about this stuff right now, I can’t think about it. She feels like crying, she’s that disappointed. She pours a glass of red wine, lights several candles in the bathroom and soaks in the big tub until the water goes cold, so she lets some out and adds more hot, something she would never have done, under normal circumstances. Normally, she is conservative, about everything except politics. Conserving water, and heat, and gas, so she doesn’t consume more than necessary. Recycle, recycle. Recycling is a way of life, preserve the earth, leave it in as good shape as possible, don’t be conspicuous in your consumption of anything.
My style would be longer complex sentences, that sometimes dart off in directions, as sometimes people’s thoughts do, mixed with shorter sentences. I wanted to show the internal conflict of Abby, and how she keeps hoping while feeling it’s pretty much hopeless. She thought he’d call right away, but since he hasn’t she thinks he probably didn’t feel about the weekend the way she did. The author’s voice (mine) comes out because these are things I have thought, and so I think it’s a good example of the disappointment, confusion, and a bit of politics thrown in, to describe Abby and what kind of person she is.
I liked this paragraph after I wrote it. It’s me, it’s my voice. If others don’t like it, that’s all right. People who read different genres may alternately think it’s too brittle, or too sappy. But I’m guessing there are a few who will like it. And that’s what I’m counting on.