Writing Legend Les Edgerton Teaches Us How to Create a Remarkable Writing Voice

Earlier this month we talked about “writing voice.” All agents want to find it and all new writers want to know what the heck it is. I did my best to educate you guys on voice, but frankly, compared to my writer heroes, I am a mere neophyte. I was at least smart enough to know what I didn’t know and to look to those who could lead the way. Les Edgerton has been one of my writing heroes for a LONG time and, frankly, having him here is making me a wee dizzy. I haven’t been this fan girl since I kidnapped James Rollins in my creepy interview van.

Unfortunately for me, did you see Les’s picture? Does this look like a dude who would fall for the FREE CANDY schtick? Yeah, I didn’t think so either. So, rather than smearing a $50 Barnes and Noble Gift Card with honey and sprinkles and hoping to catch the correct writer, I just went ahead and asked.

Boring, but effective. And come on! Les needed to be here, because, how can we talk about writing voice without a visit from the master?

Take it away Les!

***

Hello fellow WANAs!

Thank you so much for allowing me to appear on your blog, Kristen. I follow it religiously and am amazed at both the wonderful info you impart and the collegiality of the people who gather here. This is a signal honor and I’m stoked to be here!

You asked me to talk about my book on the writer’s voice, FINDING YOUR VOICE: How to Put Personality in Your Writing, and I thought what might be valuable would be to include a chapter from that book. Hope your readers agree. We just made it available as an ebook and you can check it out on Amazon.

I’m very proud of this book, Kristen. It was the first of my writer’s craft books and over the years I’ve received lots of emails and letters from writers who tell me it’s helped inform their own writing and that’s just plain gratifying. It’s why we all write, right? To make a difference in others’ lives.

BTW, if you folks enjoy the selection I’m providing, please consider helping me out with my own writing. My latest novel, a psychological thriller titled THE BITCH is one of six nominees for the Spinetingler Magazine Best Novel award in the Legends category. This is a huge honor just to be nominated and if somehow I’d win, well, I’d be speechless… (For those who know me, you know that’s almost impossible to comprehend…)

I need to explain that the title isn’t a pejorative title towards women, nor is it a term for a female dog, but is what outlaws and criminals call the “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” ha-bitch-ual criminal statute. To vote for it, just go to the link, scroll down to the “Best Novel” in the Legends category and click on my book. Then, just scroll to the end and enter it. And… thank you!

I hope the stuff on voice below proves helpful in your own writing!

CHAPTER SELECTION ON VOICE

Talent alone cannot make a writer. There must be a man behind the book.—RALPH WALDO EMERSON

This, then, is what it’s all about, finally.

Putting your personality into your prose. Truly, the “secret” to getting published.

William Zinsser stresses this in his best-selling writer’s craft book, On Writing Well, when he writes: ”I wrote one book about baseball and one about jazz. But it never occurred to me to write one of them in sports English and the other in jazz English. I tried to write them both in the best English I could, in my usual style.

Though the books were widely different in subject, I wanted readers to know that they were hearing from the same person. It was my book about baseball and my book about jazz. Other writers would write their book. My commodity as a writer, whatever I’m writing about, is me. And your commodity is you.”

If your finished novel, short story, article, poem, personal memoir, bio of the latest corrupt politician or outstanding statesperson—whatever—reads as if written by another person . . . then it was.

You need to seize it and make it the work only you could possibly have written.

First off, however, you need to determine if your voice has, indeed, been camouflaged.

There are at least three ways to tell if this is so.

Are the Word Choices, Sentence Usages, and Phrases Employed Yours?

The first “litmus test” is to check the language in the piece itself.

Author Jules Renard said, “If the word arse is read in a sentence, no matter how beautiful the sentence, the reader will react only to that word.” He’s not singling out the “olde English” noun except as an example of the sort of word a writer shouldn’t use unless it’s organic to him and is natural to the context in which it’s used. The kind of word that draws attention to itself, at the expense of the fìctive dream we struggle so mightily to create for the reader.

Look for those kinds of examples in your copy, and instead of reaching automatically for your thesaurus, try a different approach to coming up with a better word.

One way to do this is by clustering. Write the word that needs replaced in the center of a blank sheet of paper. Draw a short, straight line out from the word, and quickly jot down the next word that pops into your mind. Do the same with that word.

Do this for at least seven to eight words, then sit back and look at what you have. Oftentimes, the word you need emerges. If that doesn’t work, at least change any such word that drastically calls attention to itself to something less intruding and attention-gathering.

As Anthony Burgess says, “People don’t like using dictionaries when they’re reading mere novels.”

Jane Burroway, in her seminal writing text, Writing Fiction:A Guide to Narrative Craft, says much the same thing, but expands the advice even more: “When you are carried away with the purple of your prose,the music of your alliteration, the hilarity of your wit, the profundity of your insights, then the chances are that you are having a better time writing than the reader will have reading. No reader will forgive you, and no reader should. Just tell the story. The style will follow of itself if you just tell the story.”

Check your text for overt evidence of a writer at work. Whenever the reader becomes aware someone is writing the piece—whether it be fiction or nonfìction—then the “fictive dream” (which applies to nonfìction as well) is interrupted and you’ve lost your reader at least briefly, if not permanently.

You’ve created a speed bump, at the minimum.

Five Percent

If you can identify more than 5 percent of the language you used as being essentially foreign to your normal usage, then you’re not employing your own personality on the page. That’s just too many words alien to your vocabulary and it will show up as forced and unnatural. In fact, 5 percent is just about the upper limit. Go back and substitute more of your own language.

Sentence Structure

The structure you give your sentences can show you whether or not you’re solidly within your voice.

If you’re using complete sentences, you’re probably not writing in your natural voice.

In a recent Neighborhood Connections class (local, adult-ed class) I taught, a woman who wrote otherwise wonderful prose had a sticking point with sentence fragments. She simply could not bring herself to write anything less than a complete sentence. She confessed that every time she did, the image of her seventh-grade English teacher loomed large on the screen of her mental Sony.

The result was prose, that, while writ with grace, beauty and interest, nevertheless, was being strangled with formality. She was such a good writer that she was able to imbue her “Tom Wolfeian beige voice” with energy, but it wasn’t  until she was able to force herself to write sentence fragments within the text that her stories really began to sparkle.

She “thought” in sentence fragments at the appropriate places in her writing, but she had developed the habit of editing them as she wrote to render them complete units, with subject, predicate, and all that stuff. It took almost the entire six weeks of the class for her to work through her problem, but once she overcame that inhibition, the traces were thrown off, and she confessed, after her last class, that she felt “wildly free” for the first time in her writing life. She’d been so “conditioned” that at first she couldn’t even bring herself to use contractions in her character’s dialogue!

Clarity

The trick to writing well? Write simply; write clearly. Eschew flowery language.

Aim for the same kind of clarity-bullseye in your own writing, whether it be a lean or lush style. The kind of writing that when the nonwriter or casual reader reads it, thinks, “Man! This writing stuff looks easy; I could do this¦

Look at other writers you admire and see if the simpleness of their language—whether lush or spare or somewhere in-between—isn’t one of their strengths, too.

When rereading your work and you come to a part that has been gussied up by the over-baroqueness of your language, try rewriting it with only one thing in mind—to make it as clear to the reader as a day in Santa Monica after a Santa Ana wind has blown through.

If your style requires ten words to do that and another’s style uses four, that’s all right. Just don’t use twenty words if ten do the job, or eight, if your own style is comfortable with six. Compare the initial version and the rewritten one, and see which one you like the best. Better, have someone else read them and tell you which one they prefer.

Don’t stick a Rolls-Royce hood ornament on your Chevy Lumina and try to fool people!

Second Litmus Test—Get Feedback From Others

Perhaps one of the best ways to cull out those parts of your writing where you’ve strayed from your own trés-cool voice is to solicit the opinions of others. If you belong to a writing group, ask your fellow writers if you can read your material to them, requesting they inform you which, if any, parts “don’t sound like you.” Mark through those sentences and sections with a marker (I’d suggest yellow instead of black), and then later, go through them to see if you agree. If the language has departed from the rest of the piece, you know it needs to be rewritten until it blends with the rest.

Read your material aloud, and ask yourself if you’d like to be locked up in a room with the person who wrote this and listen to the sound of that voice for several hours at a time. If not, then you’re probably not putting your own personality into your prose as much as you should be. After all, we like our voices when we’re ourselves, don’t we? We hardly ever tell ourselves to “shut up!” when we’re being natural.

Tweety in the Coal Mine

Way back when, coal miners would carry a canary in a cage down into the bowels of the mine with them. The purpose of the canary was to let the miners know if deadly gasses were present so they could get the hell out before they keeled over. They kept a close watch on Tweety, and if he fell over dead (with those little Xs for eyes), they hiked as fast as they could to the surface.

That’s what you need. A canary to let you know if the ”gas” of your prose has become deadly. Hopefully, your friend or writing group won’t fall over onto the floor with those little Xs where their orbs used to be, but they should be able to sniff where your writing has become stifling and beige.

Beige has an odor somewhat like skunk cabbage does when you step into a patch of it. Deodorize your prose until it smells sweet—like you!

Be Alert to Critic Nag in the Room . . .

The third part of the litmus test to see if you’re camouflaging your natural voice is to check the room periodically to see if Critic Nag has crept in under the doorsill or through an open window. He’s usually invisible, so the only way to spot them is to read what you’ve written to see if he was typing while your mind spaced, as it does from time to time with us writer-types.

A good place to look for evidence that he’s lurking somewhere in the room is in your character’s dialogue. If you find your characters never use contractions in their speech, for instance, that’s a solid clue that Critic Nag is sitting over in the corner, smirking evilly at you.

If your characters always use complete sentences, wouldn’t dream of using a contraction, without fail use the correct words or word combinations like “give me” instead of “gimme,” then Critic Nag has probably snuck into the room with you.

Look for Critic Nag’s whisper in your ear when you’re writing emotional scenes. He’ll try to encourage you to use lurid language and not trust your own writing ability to convey the emotion. He’s a crafty little imp!

When you’re writing those scenes, keep in mind the advice of Philip Gerard in his excellent book Writing a Book That Makes a Difference, where he says: “Flatten the language. The hotter the action, the cooler you want the language, to a point.”

You need to choose the word that fits the situation on the page you’re trying to create—whether that be description or the business or action of a scene, but you also need to choose the word that fits you comfortably. It has to carry the intent, but it also has to reflect you and your emotions. That’s the only way it will ring true and be unmistakably yours.

Another clue that will tell you ol’ Critic Nag has been around is if your passages of description have been overwritten and in a too-flowery style. If you read passages full of window-pane, static description, instead of active, page-turning description. This is what one of those many fiends who compose Critic Nag urged you to do way back when. He’s in the room!

He’s also been around if you begin to reread your stuff and unfamiliar words jump out at you. You know, those words you’ve never once used in conversation and look newly-purchased from that sale you visited on Dictionary/Thesaurus.com. (Or, found on eBay, most likely.)

To Reiterate . . .

In summary, there are three basic ways to seize control of your material and make it your own:

1.        Check the language you’ve used in the piece.

Mark the words that leap up at you from the page that clearly aren’t yours and come up with choices from your vocabulary.

2.  Have others read your material and tell you which parts aren’t “you.”

Pick folks who know you well. Don’t use them to tell you if the writing is “good” or make that kind of quality judgment; instead, simply ask them to let you know which passages “don’t sound like you.” That’s all you need—someone to point out where you departed from yourself.

3.        Seek out and banish Critic Nag from the room.

Begone!

Just always remember: Don’t let others rent space in your head! Especially Critic Nag . . .

THANK YOU LES!!!!! Many of you who follow this blog already know and LOVE Les because I talk about him all the time and make you buy his books :D. So please, for those of you who have loved Les’s work, please go vote for him in the Spinetingler Award. I know you guys have a ton of books, but you have until the end of April to read and vote for The Bitch… *giggle*.Just go to the link. I hope you guys can show some WANA support for a writer who has done so much to help use newbies grow into trained professionals.

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of April I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note–I’ve been having technical problems lately and am in the middle of rebuilding my web site. Also, my toddler has had an allergic reaction to something and he has been home sick, which is slowing me down.

I will just have to announce last week’s winner on Monday. Sorry, icky sick baby has made it impossible to tally all the comment entries from last week (especially since I had the rare privilege of being Freshly Pressed, which means the comments EXPLODED).

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

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  1. #1 by Bill Chance on April 25, 2012 - 4:23 pm

    Really good advice, thanks for sharing.

    • #2 by Les Edgerton on April 25, 2012 - 5:14 pm

      Thanks, Bill. Hope you get the book. This is just a sample and I go into depth on all the facets of voice.

  2. #3 by Bri Clark on April 25, 2012 - 4:29 pm

    Fabulous as always Kristen and Les. And Les I know that you are the general authority in the writing world on Voice. I consider you an amazing teacher and all around great guy so it pains me to have to pose a question that will unravel your rep like a ball of yarn in front of a kitten. *snickers*

    How do you get the accent out of your ” voice” when people read your work?

    • #4 by Les Edgerton on April 25, 2012 - 5:10 pm

      Oops. I think I put my answer to you in the wrong place, Bri! Sorry to both you and Susan!

      • #5 by Bri Clark on April 25, 2012 - 6:03 pm

        Les,

        You know perfectly well I don’t want to loose my accent. I was just trying to raz you up. Unfortunately and quite frankly with little effort you difused my poke. Sigh.

  3. #6 by susielindau on April 25, 2012 - 4:42 pm

    This is such a relief! I wondered if I needed to flower or soup up my WIP in one of my last revisions. I write in my voice and wasn’t sure if that was good enough. I will definitely take your advice Les. Thank you so much for sharing!
    I voted! Good luck to you.

    • #7 by Les Edgerton on April 25, 2012 - 5:09 pm

      Bri, why would you want to? (Get the accent out?) That’s part of you and part of your voice.

      • #8 by Les Edgerton on April 25, 2012 - 5:11 pm

        Sorry I put my answer to Bri here. And thanks for voting! Yay!

  4. #9 by Tonia Marie Houston on April 25, 2012 - 4:53 pm

    I’m glad to know I’m not the only Les Edgerton fan girl, Kristen. :) I cheesed when I read the title in my email today.

    I’m currently reading Finding Your Voice and it’s one of those craft books I wished I’d picked up sooner. This is the first time I’ve completed exercises in a craft book(I know, bad girl), and it’s been uber helpful.

    Les, thanks for giving writers free reign to forgoe the “beige voice” and experiment with our own language,theme,etc. Us writers tend to need permission like that.

    Cheers.

    • #10 by lesedgerton on April 25, 2012 - 5:42 pm

      Tonia, you’re exactly right! We writers do need permissions like this! I had my own moment years ago when I kept reading gurus who told me to “write like crazy–get it down–and then go back and fix it.” Problem was, this went against my instincts. But, I followed it because who was I? And, all these big names universally were telling me to write like lickety-split and so I did. Then, one day, I picked up a book by a respected writer and he said it was just fine to stop until you found the perfect word, stop until the sentence was perfect, et al. And, I was freed! An “authority” gave me permission to do what my instincts had been trying to tell me for years. My output increased exponentially and I ceased having to do all those rewrites which didn’t work anyway. Trust your instincts. They’re usually sound.

  5. #11 by Ciara Ballintyne on April 25, 2012 - 4:54 pm

    While I think this is great advice, the one caution I would add is beware the members of a writer’s group who will try to ‘edit out’ your voice. I’ve had this experience when other writers try to rewrite my work the way they would have written it instead of acknowledging my voice. You don’t haveto like someone else’s voice (no such thing as someone who is universally liked) but you should always respect that just because they’ve done it differently doesn’t make it wrong – at least not when it comes to voice.

  6. #12 by Stacy A on April 25, 2012 - 4:56 pm

    Super good stuff! I’ve been trying to get my head around Deep POV. I posted the scene I was working on to an online writer’s group I sometimes take part in as part of a weekly critique they have going. Being fairly new at this “writing for possible publication” thing I really took what they had to say to heart, and dutifully rewrote the scene according to their suggestions. It was hard, took hours, frustrated me to no end, and I ended up in tears. So I decided to read both selections (the before and after) to my husband. I asked him which one he liked better. His answer? The first one. It was more “authentically” me, he said. “But I want to do this Deep POV thing!” I wailed. “Combine the two,” he said. I didn’t know how that would work, but I did, and later read it to him. “Bingo,” he said. “That’s it. It’s much better, and your voice is back.”

    Whew! I honestly don’t want to lose my writing voice because that’s what makes my writing MY writing. This post is full of good ideas for me to use in keeping my voice strong, but not overwhelming. THANK YOU!!

    (Speaking of the overwhelming voice, I read a book several weeks ago that had a good story, and the writer had a fun, unique voice … but was obviously enamoured of her own cleverness. Every. Single. Sentence. was clever. A bit snarky, like banter between friends who try to outdo each other. I managed to finish the book, but it drove me crazy. So “too-clever writing” went into my list of things to watch out for in my own work.)

    Stacy A

  7. #13 by 1wanderingtruthseeker on April 25, 2012 - 5:04 pm

    I am so glad you posted this. The advice of write in our own tongue and speech is just great. I tried telling my writing group that, but they only liked flowery prose. Great to see that I’m not so dumb afterall.

  8. #14 by Rachel on April 25, 2012 - 5:14 pm

    I just thought I’d toss in my two cents. As a follow up to making sure your words sound like they would come out of your pen, when writing in the “voice” of a specific POV character, you might think about the kinds of words that character would use. Just a thought.

    • #15 by lesedgerton on April 25, 2012 - 5:36 pm

      Great point, Rachel. And, I do cover exactly that elsewhere in the book.

  9. #16 by Jenny Hansen on April 25, 2012 - 5:15 pm

    I just bought the book and I’m looking forward to digging into it! I’ve got two Craft books ahead of you and then you hit the On Deck Circle! :-)

    • #17 by lesedgerton on April 25, 2012 - 5:19 pm

      Thanks, Jenny! You rock!

  10. #18 by K.B. Owen on April 25, 2012 - 5:20 pm

    Les, that was fabulous, down-to-earth advice. I’m bookmarking this, because it’s so rich in material I’m not sure it all sank in, LOL. One question: I’m writing a historical mystery, and I battle all the time between my voice and trying to sound “19th century” – do you have any advice? Thanks!

    Heading over to the voting site now, then to the craft book site! Woot!
    Kathy

    • #19 by lesedgerton on April 25, 2012 - 5:33 pm

      K.B. I run into this issue frequently in my classes. This is actually kind of an easy question. It falls under the same umbrella as do particular accents or cultures. Mark Twain used to phoneticize his dialog so that it sounded “realistic.” We no longer do this. Instead, we give a word or two or a particular syntax to that culture occasionally and the reader “fills in” the language in his/her mind. Remember, whatever the age or period or culture, people sounded then to each other exactly as we sound to each other today. So, just throw in a “doth” occasionally and the reader will “furnish” the particular speech him or herself. Make sense? We run into this with sci-fi and fantasy writers often, and at times they’ll use what I call “Tonto” language. That kind of thing bad writers do when they have Native Americans saying things like: “Me go up heap big mountain. Talk to Great Spirit.” Yuch! Well, American Indians when speaking to each other sound pretty much like you and I do when we speak to each other. Just give an occasional word from the era or a particularized sentence structure occasionally… OCCASIONALLY!… and you’ll convey that period well. Hope this helps!

      • #20 by K.B. Owen on April 25, 2012 - 5:49 pm

        It helps a lot, Les, thanks! And your advice reassures me that my instincts about it are right, so I can relax a bit, let my own voice come through, and put a few choice phrases from time to time, like “What in the Sam Hill do you think you’re doing?” or “Goes around like he’s the biggest toad in the puddle.”

        Now I’m all fired up! Where’s my WIP? :D

        • #21 by lesedgerton on April 25, 2012 - 5:54 pm

          Okay, K.B. I don’t have it. (Your WIP). I have an alibi…

          Glad it helped!

      • #22 by Lanette on April 26, 2012 - 7:27 am

        Sorry to butt in on your conversation, but thanks a lot for that advice. My next project is set in another country, and the language and customs there are very different from ours. I’ve done some research and have learned some of the customary phrases and words they use. All I have to do is sprinkle those in. Thank you.

    • #23 by bluepearlgirl's world on April 26, 2012 - 12:58 am

      me too! i know i will forget some of these and they are a great checklist!

  11. #24 by lesedgerton on April 25, 2012 - 5:20 pm

    Thanks, Jenny! You rock. Hope it helps inform your own writing.

  12. #25 by CG Blake on April 25, 2012 - 6:04 pm

    Les,
    Great advice. Voice is one of the hardest things for a novice writer to develop, but it’s an essential part of the writer’s toolkit. I would only that the attitude that shows up in a writer’s stories is a big part of a writer’s voice. Thanks for the helpful tips.

    • #26 by lesedgerton on April 25, 2012 - 6:26 pm

      Thank you, CG! I agree totally with you about attitude!

  13. #27 by fandina72 on April 25, 2012 - 6:11 pm

    This is fabulous :) I loved one of your comments, Les, about following our instincts. I do that in life and am happy it overflows to my writing. But, there are still many occasions I am swayed by the ‘experts’ particularly with the ‘don’t edit as you go, just get the words down’. It just doesn’t make sense to me, so I am now settled into my own rhythm of trying to write quality that I am happy with and not moving on until I feel good about it.
    It was so gratifying to read that you are the same :) Thanks for the post – definitely a ‘print-it-out-and-read-it-over-and-over’ post!
    And thanks, Kirsten for hosting Les – just one more reason to love you ;)

    • #28 by lesedgerton on April 25, 2012 - 6:29 pm

      Fandina (neat name!) the older I get, the more I go to my instincts. The thing about writers is that almost all of us learned to write by reading lots and lots and lots of books. It’s how we learn to write more than any other method. And that means that we “know” what we’re doing if we’d just listen to that knowledge that’s packed in there already. And, I’m like everybody–sometimes I feel insecure about what I shouldn’t and need someone in authority to tell me that it’s all right and even a good thing to do what my instincts are shouting at me to do. It helps to be reminded that we all know more than we realize sometimes, doesn’t it!

      • #29 by fandina72 on April 25, 2012 - 6:39 pm

        Absolutely! And it also helps to know that writers of your calibre sometimes feel insecure and need to be reminded to listen to their instincts, too :)
        Ps. Sorry about the typo in your name in my first comment, Kristen! I type faster than my brain LOL

        • #30 by fandina72 on April 25, 2012 - 6:42 pm

          And thanks, Les, for popping over and liking my latest blog post – YOU MADE MY DAY!!! :)

          • #31 by lesedgerton on April 25, 2012 - 6:45 pm

            It’s a cool blog! I like blogs and writers who make sense and you do.

    • #32 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 25, 2012 - 7:00 pm

      Awww, THANKS. And no worries, I answer to everything :D.

  14. #33 by tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor on April 25, 2012 - 6:49 pm

    Awwww poor tweety bird! Thanks for sharing the excerpt! Yup – you sold me. Amazon here I come! I’m a hound for anyone giving good insight on writing voice. Its a hard concept to explain and I think each writer understands it differently.

    Thanks for sharing him with us!

  15. #34 by lesedgerton on April 25, 2012 - 7:20 pm

    I’m hitting the sack and the reason I’m telling you this is that if someone posts a comment and I don’t reply, I don’t want folks to think I’m some kind of snob–jus’ sleepin’… I’ll come back in the ayem and chime in if I can. Just want to thank y’all for the wonderful reception here and Kristen for her incredible generosity of spirit. She’s amazing in helping out her fellow writers!

  16. #35 by JoanReeves on April 25, 2012 - 8:30 pm

    Les, I bought your book on Voice when it was first published several years ago. Great book. I’ve recommended it so often to other writers. I was excited to see you were a guest on Kristin’s blog. Greatly enjoyed your post today.

    • #36 by lesedgerton on April 26, 2012 - 10:22 am

      Thanks, Joan! I’m so glad it helped!

  17. #37 by Char on April 25, 2012 - 8:33 pm

    Wow. Great advice, Les. Thanks so much for pointing out these things. I know I slip into that tres-cool writerly language now & then. Need to stifle the urge to do that.

  18. #38 by lynnkelleyauthor on April 25, 2012 - 9:05 pm

    Thank you, Les, for sharing a whole chapter with us. Great stuff to know, and I love that exercise for replacing a word rather than looking in the thesaurus. I’ll definitely try that. I’m glad your book is now an eBook. Very cool. Am going to go vote for you right now.

    Kristen, thanks so much for hosting Les. Awesome post.

    • #39 by lesedgerton on April 26, 2012 - 10:23 am

      Thanks, Lynn… and thanks so much for voting!

  19. #40 by Barbara Rae Robinson on April 25, 2012 - 9:06 pm

    Glad to see you here, Les. I have your book on voice and have read it. I also love Hooked. That is a fabulous book. It’s dog-eared, I’ve used it so much. Now to go find the voice book and read it again. I think I need another dose of your wisdom. As I read the blog post, I realized I haven’t read your book in a long time.

    Barb

    • #41 by lesedgerton on April 26, 2012 - 10:24 am

      Thanks, Barbara–you guys are great for the ego! Just delighted you found them useful.

  20. #42 by Aspergers Girls on April 25, 2012 - 9:11 pm

    Wonderful tips. I appreciate the part about the characters not speaking perfectly. And I chuckled at the incomplete sentence tip for true voice—only because my true voice often doesn’t finish a thought. lol :) If you get a chance, I’d love for you to pop over to my blog: Everyday Aspergers. Thanks so much. I love your style and clarity. Much light ~ Samantha (Keep up the awesome writing.)

    • #43 by lesedgerton on April 26, 2012 - 10:25 am

      Thanks, Samantha–I’m on my way over to your blog.

  21. #44 by yvonneeileen on April 25, 2012 - 10:16 pm

    Reblogged this on 1,000 Words or less and commented:
    Erin, This will help us teach voice. I will continue to study it.

    • #45 by lesedgerton on April 26, 2012 - 10:26 am

      Thank you so very much for the reblog!

      • #46 by yvonneeileen on April 26, 2012 - 1:19 pm

        Thank you for the lesson. Standards for writing are continuing to rise, and I am trying to keep from drowning in them. Teachers are very needy people these days.

  22. #47 by rainang on April 25, 2012 - 10:25 pm

    Thank you Les.

  23. #48 by CC MacKenzie on April 26, 2012 - 12:15 am

    Great post, Les & Kristen,

    I’ve voted! Yea! And yes, voice has a defined rhythm too I believe. It took a while, but once I hit my stride and am in the ‘zone’ in a story I know I’ve found it. Not sure that’s a clear explanation but it’s the best I can do at 6.14am!

  24. #49 by Amelia Loken on April 26, 2012 - 12:27 am

    This was great advice…but I’m kinda like K.B. A historical writer.

    My current WIP is medieval. I have characters who are lower born who I have use “ye” instead of “you” and quite a few “‘Tisn’t”s. But my main character is a high born girl who must mingle with them. And the way I’ve written her, she doesn’t ever speak in contractions. I imagine her speaking much like an English lady. When she’s flustered, she has a few colorful phrases she uses. But I felt that her manner of speech would be too ingrained for her to start saying “can’t” before 3/4 of the book is through.

    What’s your take?

    • #50 by lesedgerton on April 26, 2012 - 10:33 am

      Good question, Amelia. Might I gently suggest that when you say your (fictional) character wouldn’t speak in a certain way… that she’s just that–fictional. Meaning, “made up.” Meaning, you created her. Meaning, you’re the God of your story and of your characters… which means they don’t have minds of their own–you created ‘em and you can make them do just about anything you want them to do. Sometimes, we assume things about characters in certain eras that perhaps aren’t true, usually from reading other novels. For instance, are you certain that “English ladies of whatever era always speak perfect English? Is it possible you came to that conclusion from reading novels where the characters did just that? I don’t know–just asking rhetorically. It’s like academics–often people assume learned people speak in complete sentences and with perfect diction, syntax, etc. But, I’ve known several Ivy League professors–even English and lit profs–who, in everyday life, speak with as many colloquialisms and imperfect sentence structure and with contractions as just about anyone else. Just throwing this out for your consideration.

  25. #51 by bluepearlgirl's world on April 26, 2012 - 12:36 am

    Reblogged this on bluepearlgirl's world and commented:
    great post that some of us blog writers can really use! Thank you!

    • #52 by lesedgerton on April 26, 2012 - 10:34 am

      Thank you so much!

  26. #54 by bluepearlgirl's world on April 26, 2012 - 12:55 am

    I have never really thought of writing in such theoretical terms. I just write because i am opinionated and have a big mouth. I find myself personally what changes my writing the most from its organic thought is my loss of my mental spelling dictionary if you can believe it. I am so embarassed to have to admit. That spell check is a 50-50 love hate thing. I hate that it doesn’t have some words that are actually words but aren’t added to the slang or tense… I love the fact that it is blaring red in my face YOU FORGOT HOW TO SPELL EVERYTHING!! Take a gd class for godsake! I know i know. I need to and am going to have to pretty soon because it is getting embaressing for my own brain! I had not even thought of having a style. Maybe i am just used to speaking from my own jaded voice but maybe it should get second looked at by some critics. I love the idea of doing something that there are still obvious things to work on. Makes it fun! I did re-blog not to win your contest (but that would be really cool! although, i dont write fiction :() but because it is really useful stuff for us blog writers to think about! ;)

    • #55 by lesedgerton on April 26, 2012 - 10:36 am

      Great points!

  27. #56 by Turndog Millionaire on April 26, 2012 - 4:26 am

    Great tips, and very helpful at this moment in time for me. Editing is a killer, but when i read tips like this it helps get through another barrier. Thank you oh so much

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

    • #57 by lesedgerton on April 26, 2012 - 10:36 am

      My pleasure!

  28. #58 by katmagendie on April 26, 2012 - 7:06 am

    Always something fabulous here – T’ankee Les and Kristen!

    • #59 by lesedgerton on April 26, 2012 - 10:37 am

      Speaking for me–you’re very welcome!

      • #60 by katmagendie on April 26, 2012 - 11:45 am

        *smiling* It’s always great to learn something new, or to nod my head in agreement, or to go “why couldn’t I write something so succinct and charming” laugh! :-D

  29. #61 by Lanette on April 26, 2012 - 7:15 am

    This was great. I’ve been told by another writer in my genre that I have a good voice, but I always look for help when I can find it. Looking forward to getting the book, FINDING YOUR VOICE. Thanks.

    • #62 by lesedgerton on April 26, 2012 - 10:38 am

      Thank you for getting it–hope it helps inform your own writing!

  30. #63 by nemune on April 26, 2012 - 7:19 am

    Critique nag! I love that concept! Thanks for the tips, highly needed for me at this point. Bookmarking! Thanks Les and Kristen!

    • #64 by lesedgerton on April 26, 2012 - 10:38 am

      You’re very welcome! Just kick ol’ Critic Nag out the door!

  31. #65 by Guilie on April 26, 2012 - 10:53 am

    This is a fantastic post–thank you for sharing! Comes at a timely moment, too–I was recently rejected by my dream agent because he didn’t fall in love with the voice as much as he thought he would. The reason he’s my dream agent is *precisely* because of the uniqueness in voice of the books and authors he represents, and it was a blow to my writerly ego. In between the lines of his very friendly and regretful email, I read “your voice isn’t unique enough”–which means it’s not *my* voice at all, not yet. This advice you’re sharing here will be put to use ipso facto and statim :) Thank you again!

  32. #66 by thenouveaupoor on April 26, 2012 - 12:25 pm

    Right now my voice isn’t surviving my edits. It gets kicked, stomped and beaten to death by the time I’m done. Thanks for the tips on how to treat it better.

  33. #67 by C. C. Cedras on April 26, 2012 - 3:13 pm

    This post was full of so many great points, but THE ONE THAT MEANT THE MOST TO ME is that I don’t have to fight my instinct to hone the writing as I go. After a lifetime of editing-as-I-go, it is just physically impossible for me to hammer it all out and go back later to make it pretty. No can do. Thank you, Les! And thank you, Kristen, for “kidnapping” Les for today’s installment.

  34. #68 by CJ Carver on April 26, 2012 - 4:46 pm

    Thank you, Les and Kristen. I am new on the writing scene, and am trying to absorb whatever I can. Your guidance couldn’t have come at a better time, Les. Regrettably, my writing voice, such that it is, tends to flow from the only serious writing that I have done, which was my academic work back in university. While my first major project is non-fiction, an autobiography, it simply won’t do for it to sound like a history essay. Despite knowing this, I often find myself writing for an “A,” rather than just telling my story as I would over a couple of pints. Given your advice, I am more determined than ever to just tell the damn story. I’m heading over to vote for you now, and will blog this blog at http://cjcarver.blogspot.ca/. I am new to blogging as well, so if you have a moment to swing by and take a look, I would appreciate any feedback.
    CJ

  35. #69 by Julie Farrar on April 26, 2012 - 5:25 pm

    Great post. One technique I use when checking for voice is to read the darn piece aloud. If it does not read “trippingly on the tongue” then it’s not a natural voice. I think this could also work for historical fiction. They may have come from an earlier time, but I’m sure the characters shouldn’t sound like automatons.

  36. #70 by EllieAnn on April 27, 2012 - 11:55 am

    I love Jane Burroway’s advice about being an invisible writer.
    What a rad post. I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned so much.

  37. #71 by WhatSheSaid on April 27, 2012 - 4:51 pm

    Excellent article. Very helpful. I would sit down and write as if I were literally talking to somebody. It gets me through the first draft and gives me something to work with. Thanks!

  38. #72 by Fiona Marsden on April 28, 2012 - 2:11 am

    It’s interesting thinking about voice in this way. I normally use big words in my day to day life. It’s something I’ve always done without thinking about it, and those fancy shmancy words make their way into my writing. In response to criticism, I’m cutting those words out and replacing them with ‘ordinary’ words. Now when I read things that have been edited, they seem odd to me. I can related to the contractions thing, the fragments, fighting the formal English temptation. But how do I tell if it’s my voice if I’m consciously dumbing down words I use every day to be more ‘natural’.

  39. #73 by Thomas W. Smith on April 28, 2012 - 1:27 pm

    As a newbie to the blog world and someone who is definitely still trying to find his voice, I found this information to be very helpful. To a specific point that was made here, someone recently provided me with highly-valuable feedback on my blog writing that was very much along the same lines. This individual was afraid that they would somehow hurt my feelings in providing the feedback; however, that couldn’t have been further from how the feedback was taken. Feedback as to voice is key!

  40. #74 by Heather Marsten on April 28, 2012 - 4:52 pm

    Thank you for this post. Hoping your little one is feeling better. My college-aged daughter comes home tonight, with older son who is driving her – there goes writing time. Regarding voice your suggestions are really helpful. I think writing lots also helps to develop one’s voice. In my memoir, the first chapters were stilted, but after writing lots of chapters, my voice began to be apparent. It is hard when writing in first person – and the character’s voice (mine) needs to mature from the age of seven to adult. That is a voice challenge for me. I had to describe things in words a seven-year-old would use, and then later I could use the more correct terms. I plan to get your book. I think it will be helpful as I improve my writing. Have a blessed day.

  41. #75 by Heather Marsten on April 28, 2012 - 4:53 pm

    PS, putting a link to this on my Facebook account.

  42. #76 by Reetta Raitanen on April 29, 2012 - 4:12 am

    Brilliant post, Les. I loved the practical advice. Now I must read the rest of your book. And good luck on the Spinetingler contest. I voted for you.

  43. #77 by submeg on April 29, 2012 - 6:23 am

    Excellent stuff! I have actively tried to create a voice by:
    * avoiding over the top correctness
    * ensuring my characters have identity and their dialogue matches this identity
    * writing. Not stopping and critiquing. If I notice something glaringly obvious I will flag it, and come back and fix it during the first editing round

    Just these three things help me avoid from getting caught

  44. #78 by robenagrant on April 29, 2012 - 9:44 am

    Fabulous post, Les, and Kristen. This is great advice. I’ve suffered a lot with writing that is too stiff and need to remind myself that it’s a party and to have fun. : ) I voted, and I want this book in my personal library.

  45. #79 by lesedgerton on May 1, 2012 - 5:27 pm

    Hi folks,
    I’ve been w/o a computer since last Thursday (crashed) and unable to respond to comments. I got a loaner for a couple of hours today and now have to return it, but once I get mine back I’ll try to reply to all of your wonderful comments and answer questionsl. Not sure when it will be, but wanted to be sure you guys didn’t think I was being a snob or something. Had to answer over 400 emails and my time is almost up for my “loaner.” Thank you all so much for the warm reception! Oh–didn’t win the Spinetingler award, alas–Lawrence Block was just too hard to beat! But I appreciate everyone’s effort and your votes very much! Blue skies, Les

  46. #80 by Christine Benson on May 1, 2012 - 6:05 pm

    I loved your post on voice, but have a question. My characters are a different ethnicity than I am. They are black and I am white and therefore, they have language patterns different from mine. I am struggling with voice because of this. Do you have any suggestions?

    • #81 by Les Edgerton on June 8, 2012 - 1:39 pm

      Christine, Mark Twain had the same problem with black dialect and he chose to phoneticize their speech. We don’t do that any longer. Today, just sprinkle in an occasional word or occasional speech pattern and the reader will “fill in” the rest in their minds. Hope that helps! Plus–think about this. To say that black and white speech are different is somewhat stereotypical thinking perhaps. I know many black people who speak better than Yale profs and many white people who speak worse than anyone else. It’s more of a culture thing, I think. If the character’s culture requires a different than “standard” speech, regardless of the race, then again, simply sprinkle in an occasional word or speech pattern and you’ll be fine. Trust the reader’s intelligence to get it–they will.

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