Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Is Your Voice a Full Symphony...

Or does it blend in with the choir.

Voice can easily take a good book and make it memorable.

Or lack of attention to voice can make a well-plotted novel seem humdrum.

I recently listened to Kaye Dacus' workshop on Voice from ACFW's 2010 conference. Dacus lamented the fact that much of CBA fiction is beginning to sound the same. Sure, we've followed all the rules to a tee. But perhaps the cost has been too high, as in some cases we are losing our voice, our very distinctiveness. It is an excellent CD I can highly recommend.

 (Oh and by the way, if you haven't done so, be sure to read Kaye's Writing Series Index. Its chock-full of great writing advice on nearly every topic imaginable).

I had recently finished a book that had disappointed me. The writer had seemed to follow many of the rules we have learned about through countless writing books. Keep it fast-paced. Avoid passive voice. No adverbs. Show, don't tell.

I talked to my husband and finally found out what was troubling me. There was nothing that made this book unique. This book could have been written by anyone in my mind.

Recently I read another book by an author, Chris Fabry, who I think of as an armchair author for me. After reading several of his books I feel like I'm getting to know his voice as a writer and there's a comfort in that.

Another author I have recently read is Ginger Garrett. Her genre and style of writing are quite different from Chris', but she has a distinctive voice of her own that I love reading. Garrett is a storyteller who serves as a familiar travelogue on journeys through biblical lands, or early American history. She immediately captures my attention.

Another favorite of mine for voice is Laura Frantz. She is one of the rare historical fiction authors who has mastered the voice of the time period she writes in. Her beautiful prose is old-fashioned in a way that uniquely distinguishes her.

A common MFA in Creative Writing exercise I'm told is to imitate your favorite authors' styles. While I have no doubt there is value in this exercise...let's remember we're not called to be the next Willa Cather, L.M. Montgomery, or whoever else it is we admire.

Let's not forget that we can offer what no one else can...our voice.

Who are your favorite authors when it comes to voice? How would you describe their voice? Or how would you describe your own voice?

Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys reading and reviewing books for The Title Trakk, a Christian review site.


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I love, love, love Kaye! She is an inspiration to me and is so incredibly helpful. And I'm so impressed that she can write both historical and contemporary...and her voice is strong in BOTH!

It is interesting that you should talk about books sounding the same. Katie Ganshert posted yesterday about a similar thing. We read tons of books on craft and write the "perfect" story, and yet...there is something missing. Voice. Passion in the story. Uniqueness.

You've given me lots of food for thought! :)

Julia M. Reffner said...


What time do you get up...or go to bed, girl??

I must confess I've never read Kaye's work, but I should. Her writing tips are so on target.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, I'll have to go check out Katie's post.

Jeanne T said...

Interesting post, Julia. Voice....it sure makes the difference between good and sparkling, doesn't it? I really enjoy reading Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck. They both have unique voices, descriptive and expressive. Vibrant, in different ways. :) I'm not sure how to describe voice. Can you tell? :)

Lindsay Harrel said...

Thanks for the reminder and thoughtful post. I think writing blog posts regularly has helped me hone my voice, but I'm still not sure if it is unique or not! I like Susan Meissner. She has such great descriptions and a voice unlike any I have "heard."

Julia M. Reffner said...


I agree with you, Susan and Rachel definitely have very distinctive voices. Thanks for coming by :)


Yes, I know what you mean. Blog posts really helped me with that as well. In fact I think that's what started me back on the path to writing fiction. I'm sure your voice is growing and will continue to grow strong. I have only read one book by Susan Meissner, but I do think she has a very distinctive voice.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Wow, Julie, I love your title for this post! I could have stopped reading right there. So inspiring! And then I kept reading, and you make some GREAT points. The rules sometimes make us forget we're individuals. I think voice is an ever-evolving thing, but the more comfortable we become with the "rules", the more confident we can be to break them at just the right moments.

Mary Vee Writer said...

What a good point you make here. Voice is the ingredient no one knows but when it is missing everyone knows.
Do you notice a clean house? no
Do we notice a dirty hours? yes
Same idea.
Thanks for a great post, Julia

Julia M. Reffner said...


That's a great way to put it about being comfortable with the rules AND confident to break them at the right moments.


Great analogy about the dirty house, I'll remember that. Thanks, Mary.

Naomi Rawlings said...

Thanks for the post, Julia. Interesting things to contemplate for sure. I know I've gotten frustrated by flat voice before, or what I consider flat. But sometimes the novels I think are flat sell well, so I'm hardly an expert.

Laura Frantz said...

Great post, Julia. I've often thought the above myself as far as voice, sameness, freshness, etc. Sometimes it seems (and I've said this before on Kaye's blog) that maybe CBA authors and/or editors emphasize the rules so much that it stifles the voice and story. Or that the guidelines are too severe to allow for true creativity so you get cookie cutter books.

Thanks so much for the mention here - it's a blessing. I need to read Ginger as I've heard very good things, especially lately. I'm a fan of Chris! Will check these others out. Bless you for such a thoughtful post.

Beth K. Vogt said...

Favorite authors when it comes to voice:
Susie Warren.
Rachel Hauck.
Denise Hunter.
Jody Hedlund.
Evangeline Denmark.(OK, she's prepublished, but I'm telling you, that writer has an a-ma-zing voice!)
When I was focusing on nonfiction, I was told my voice was comfortable, conversational. I like to think that some element of that followed me over to the Dark Side -- that my voice is true-to-life.

Laura Frantz said...

Just wanted to add that I think Kaye's blog is tops - she really, really knows her stuff and is a stellar teacher besides being a gifted writer, as you've found out:)

Angie Dicken said...

Great post, Julia! Ginger Garrett and Laura Frantz are great in my opinion also! I just got in to Mary DeMuth's Maranatha series...VERY good. I have had the same problem as you, picking up alot of fiction that is too play-by-the-rules and not unique. It has taken a lot of searching for me to find what I like.

Julia M. Reffner said...


Yes, same here. And good points about our own recognition.


Yes, I so agree. Kaye has a fantastic blog and great writing advice. I think you would like Ginger. Really enjoyed Wolves Among Us. Definitely some violence there though.

Julia M. Reffner said...


I can definitely see your writing as "true to life" just from what I've seen of you around the web. Great list!


Yes, I love Mary DeMuth, too, especially Daisy Chain. I love her gritty honesty. I have a feeling you and I have similiar reading tastes.

Tahlia Newland said...

When I think of strong voice, I think of Leanna Renee Heiber and Laura Kreitzer. I know what you mean about books with all the rules ticked and no individual voice and they are always a bit bland. The ones I want more of always have a unique voice. Me - I have a bent towards philosophy in my writing and Kate Policini said of it - a unique, charming style that is bold, honest, and thrilling.