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Bang! Writing a Killer First Chapter (Part Three – Voice)

April 11, 2015

Writers hate hearing about voice. For many of us, the mention of voice comes simultaneous with a “no.”

“Thank you for thinking of me, but in the end, I didn’t connect with the voice in the way I would need to in order to take this on.”

Does this phrase sound familiar? Writers hear it all too often from agents and editors – if an agent or editor doesn’t love the voice, it’s a deal breaker.

When it comes to voice, there are a number of tips to keep in mind. Although voice is perhaps the most subjective element of a project (It’s like warming to a person – you might love their quirky sense of humor, but another person might hate it), there is such a thing as an objectively “bad” voice.

To make sure your book’s voice is strong, ask yourself these three questions:

First, when you’re writing, can you hear your main character’s voice in your head? You should. (Well, in this instance. Generally speaking, hearing voices in head = bad). You should know if your character will curse, if they’ll say “ain’t” instead of “isn’t,” if they’ll talk a mile a minute in an awkward social setting or clam up, if they’re the type to say “um.” If you don’t know that, it will give your reader pause.

Second, does the voice match the character? If you’re writing Boy, the character needs to sound like a boy. If you’re writing Girl, same thing. Read other successful books featuring characters similar to yours (age, background, demographic, etc.), and see how the voice is done.

Third, does your voice connect with a reader? Keeping in mind that voice is subjective (which is why ten publishing houses will pass and one will make a writer as happy as Eddie Redmayne winning his Oscar), be aware that your main character should connect. And when I say “connect,” I don’t mean “be likable.” For example, look at Patrick in Bret Easton Ellis’ AMERICAN PSYCHO. He’s a sociopath, and somehow it is fun to listen to him (especially while he is pontificating on the merits of Huey Lewis and the News while murdering someone). Along with the hook, the voice is what draws the reader in. They start the first few pages of a novel, and decide whether they want the conversation to continue. (One of the best voices I’ve read in recent months is Ezra in Robyn Schneiders’ THE BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING, a contemporary young adult novel loosely based on THE GREAT GATSBY).

If you can answer all three of these questions affirmatively, and honestly, you have your voice. If agents and/or editors don’t like it, know that voice is subjective and you simply may not have found the right home for your work yet. And here’s to hoping that you do soon!

*This article is one of a three-part series written for C1Blitz 15, a competition hosted by Freshly Squeezed Reads which will be part of the Digital Writers Festival 2015. I was thrilled to play a role as an Industry Pro judge and featured blogger!

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