Voice–The “God Particle” of Writing

Image via Flikr Commons and contributed by The Smithsonian.

Image via Flikr Commons and contributed by The Smithsonian.

What is “Voice”? In my humble opinion, voice is the “God Particle” that influences and shapes all things. Though we clearly perceive that it’s everywhere and that it holds everything together, we can’t see it. We can’t touch or smell it or even easily define it.

Voice eludes us.

In the world of particle physics, the Laws of Nature include four major forces—electromagnetic, strong, weak, and gravity. The interplay of these four forces governs the universe—creation, destruction, preservation, order, disorder, orbits and entropy. Laymen frequently refer to the force of gravity (Higgs-Boson) as “The God Particle” simply because the Higgs-Boson happens to be this evasive, seemingly indefinable particle that explains creation of the universe (and for the scientists out there, if I botched this, it’s an analogy and I am a writer, not a physicist).

Why do “things” have mass?

We know gravity is at the heart of all things, but we struggle to see gravity or define it. We also know that the “God Particle”, though the “weakest” of all four forces, seems to be the most important in that it governs the other three.

I believe voice is much the same way. As writers, we are little gods creating worlds, people, empires, magic, dynasties, and dramas all using various combinations of black symbols on a white page.

The Four Forces of Literary Nature could be named—plot, characters, style and voice. Plot, characters and style are easy to see, break apart, define, explain and diagram on a whiteboard.

But voice? It just IS.

It’s our God Particle. We need it to create our worlds and hold things together, to give them mass. We require voice to bring the other three forces into play and guide them in shaping our universes.

Writers are gods over the worlds we create. Some of us might be tiny gods, dreadful gods, absent gods, benevolent gods, generous gods, engaged gods, preoccupied gods, deadbeat gods, untalented gods, visionary, inspiring, or resourceful gods, but, to be gods, we must all have our distinctive God Particle known as our “voice.”

Our voice is our creative particle that is as unique to us as our own DNA. It’s why voice is often imitated, but not well, and why it always betrays our identity.

This God Particle we call voice is how we use all the forces of literary nature, how we employ them, what we include and what we omit. We can be gods as flesh among men (1st person or 3rd person POV). We can be gods up on our throne, looking down on it all, comfortable in our omniscience (Omnipotent POV). We don’t fashion man from dust, rather we fashion them from letters and printer ink. We separate the light from dark and water from land and we do it all with our voice.

…until we admit it is good and rest. You can smite the adverbs later. They were warned😉.

Quick Announcement:

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What are your thoughts about “voice”? What makes up an author’s voice? Does it change over time, or is it essentially the same only a stronger, more refined version? Who are some of the authors you LOVE simply because of his/her voice? Would this make you buy books if they wrote in a genre you don’t ever read? Btw, if you want to learn more about voice, one of our WANA instructors, Les Edgerton has a great reference out there Finding Your Voice

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, 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 once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of January I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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  1. #1 by Heal Now and Forever Be in Peace on January 21, 2013 - 8:26 am

    I am trying to develop that voice and let the Goddess speak through it! Great post, Kristen!

  2. #2 by Mridula on January 21, 2013 - 8:37 am

    Nice write-up in a different perspective…those who miss voice must be terribly terribly poor souls!😦
    By the way, if you can please read/review my short story Final destination

    • #3 by Author Kristen Lamb on January 21, 2013 - 8:46 am

      Thanks for the comment, but I don’t do reviews. Was an editor for far too long. Sorry😦.

      • #4 by Mridula on January 21, 2013 - 8:48 am

        Okay, I understand, but I never knew you were an editor ! But can you READ it? If yes, thanks in advance

  3. #5 by Stephanie Queen on January 21, 2013 - 8:49 am

    Playing “God” is the very essence of joy in creative writing! Great article, Kristen. Your “God Particle” concept really resonates with me.

  4. #6 by Gaines Irving Arnold on January 21, 2013 - 9:00 am

    I enjoyed the article so much that I will not point out the inaccuracies of the physics paragraph. I have said for years, as other writers have, that I have been ‘trying to find my voice’ without realizing it is already exists. I just have to bring it out in the writing. Since personality correlates well with the concept of voice, and a great majority of personality is determined before kindegarten (and is also permanently established for the most part), it seems that all a person has to do is know themselves to find their voice. The god particle analogy is perfect though because it illustrates the unchangeable, binding nature of both personality and voice. Thanks.

    • #7 by Author Kristen Lamb on January 21, 2013 - 9:05 am

      Thanks for your grace on that, LOL. Hey, at least I told you guys I wasn’t an expert in particle physics, ha ha ha ha ha.

  5. #8 by Richard Snow - Writer on January 21, 2013 - 9:02 am

    I love the voice of John le Carre, British spy novelist. He constructs beautiful paragraphs in which he starts off in the story line, gets you in and out of a characters thoughts, and the back to the story line so smoothly that you don’t see the transitions unless you actually look for them. I’d give my left arm to write like that. I’ve tried to model some paragraphs on his, but it’s dammed hard.

  6. #9 by MishaBurnett on January 21, 2013 - 9:09 am

    Voice, I think, is composed of two parts, input and output. That is, those things that the narrator (whether a specific character or an omniscient viewpoint) observes, and the way in which the narrator relates those things to the reader.

    The second part is easier to define, and tends to get the most press. Things like word choice, quality of grammar, habitual expressions, pacing and flow of words on the page (short choppy sentence fragments or long flowing paragraphs) all help to define the narrator in the reader’s mind.

    Consider:

    “A woman walked hesitantly into the bar from the street, looking around nervously.”

    vs.

    “The dame crawled in like she was looking for a place to get in out of the rain, but was half convinced that she’d rather get soaking wet.”

    Same event, but the way in which the two sentences are written tells the reader very different things about the narrator.

    However, the narrator also tells us what is important to him/her/it by what details are included or left out.

    Consider:

    “She had a purse under her arm.”

    vs.

    “She had a small black clutch purse under her arm.”

    vs.

    “She had a Louis Vuitton evening bag under her arm.”

    These sentences tell us something not just about the woman, but about the narrator. If your narrator is an unemployed ranch hand from Wyoming on his first day in the big city, is he really going to be able to recognize a designer handbag at a glance? On the other hand, if your narrator is the editor of a fashion magazine, is she going to be able to not size up another woman’s accessories?

    One place where I think we can lose our voice is when there are details that the author feels are relevant that wouldn’t necessarily be considered by the narrator as worthy of comment.

  7. #10 by howmyspiritsings on January 21, 2013 - 9:37 am

    Ah, yes, our power, our essence is in our voice.

  8. #11 by Miriam Joy on January 21, 2013 - 10:06 am

    I’ve read some authors who have a different voice for different books — and some within the books, to represent different characters. Often there’s a thread that ties them together yet occasionally, you get someone who sounds so radically different you wonder if somebody different wrote it. It really adds to the sense of character😀

  9. #12 by jcmarckx2009 on January 21, 2013 - 10:14 am

    At this point, The Voice is still only my own voice prattling on in my head. That’s why, in addition to my novel, I write on a myriad of other topics; to get my own voice out, and to let the story tell itself. That’s my plan, anyway. I think I am making progress.

  10. #13 by PA Lassiter on January 21, 2013 - 10:17 am

    I still don’t know what voice is. People who read me say I have one, but I can’t see it. At all. I’m not sure how well I can identify other writers’ voices either, unless they’re Joan Didion or Carolyn Chute or Ernest Hemingway, someone whose voice is the whole point. So likening a writer’s voice to the God Particle is apt, so apt, in fact, that you just blew my proverbial socks off.

    “We don’t fashion man from dust, rather we fashion them from letters and printer ink. We separate the light from dark and water from land and we do it all with our voice.

    …until we admit it is good and rest. You can smite the adverbs later. They were warned😉.”

    Beautiful. Just beautiful.

  11. #14 by Marilyn Hudson Tucker on January 21, 2013 - 10:23 am

    A novel I read recently has a fantastic “voice.” So many of the characters have their own distinct voice that I almost don’t need “he said” or “she said” attributions to know who is speaking. Many of the characters make me chuckle with their wittiness, which is, of course, the wit of the author, Patricia W. Fischer. Authors should study her WEIGHTING FOR MR. RIGHT to see how to give characters their own distinctive voice. Not only that, but it is a great read, with lovable characters and detestable villains, an excellent message, and an uplifting outcome.

  12. #15 by PaulaB on January 21, 2013 - 10:58 am

    I think I may now have my “tickle my fancy thursday” post. I’m experimenting with schedualed posts and on thursday I feature a blogger who post or blog in general appeals in some fashion. I wrote this elaborate first post around an old piece of writing and re-blogged my first feature blogger last week. I believe I may use this challenge of yours in some fashion for this weeks post. I love the “god particle” concept of “voice”…wonderful … it dovetails nicely into that intro post I wrote – its featured right on my front page slidder. Makes my life so much simpler to have the idea on Monday for Thursday’s post😉 thank you for the inspiration.

  13. #16 by KM Huber on January 21, 2013 - 11:33 am

    As the “God particle” gives mass to all, voice gives life to all writing. Brilliant, Kristen, just brilliant.
    Karen

  14. #17 by Les Edgerton on January 21, 2013 - 11:47 am

    Another great post, Kristen. And, thanks for the shout-out of Finding Your Voice. May I ask that you change the link as it leads to the paperback version which is completely sold out and add the ebook version link which is alive and well? It’s http://www.amazon.com/Finding-Your-Voice-Personality-ebook/dp/B007VEGNS6/ref=tmm_kin_title_0

    Writer’s Digest completely sold out the paperback and hardcover editions and my agent was able to secure the ebook rights from them and so we’ve put out that version.

    Again, thanks!

    Blue skies,
    Les

  15. #18 by Nada Faris on January 21, 2013 - 12:01 pm

    You had me at “little gods” Kristen. You are now my only writing prophet!

  16. #19 by Lin Barrett on January 21, 2013 - 12:29 pm

    Your posts are always a truly wonderful combination of wondrous illos, truly smart writing, and astonishing insight. This one’s no different: thank you.

  17. #20 by Joe Owens on January 21, 2013 - 1:18 pm

    Kristen – I crafted a new post called “Choosing Your Voice” this morning that I scheduled to post at the turn of the calendar tonight. It is a bit more focused on my specific view of voice, but has some similarities to this. Yes voice can make all the difference in writing. As writers we have to come to the place to develop our voice so that we convey what we really want to say.

  18. #21 by tomwisk on January 21, 2013 - 2:25 pm

    As I write I hear the story being told by a narrator. It varies, but it gives me a sticking point.

  19. #22 by Roy Hayward on January 21, 2013 - 2:44 pm

    When I was much younger as a writer, I wrote a story right after reading “Ender’s Game” and when my wife looked at it, she asked if I was trying to sound like Card. I hadn’t intended to, but the influence of my recent read was showing up in my voice.

    Now I do something more intentional. I prescribe myself theme music or thoughts or quotes for stories and characters. I don’t have to listen to the music or re-read something to get their voice. (sometimes I still do.) I generally just use that as a catalyst to keep the voice consistent over the course of writing.

    And after writing for a while, my own voice is more established, (I think it is a confidence thing for me.) and my wife isn’t asking me if I am imitating others.

  20. #23 by stuart sheldon on January 21, 2013 - 3:27 pm

    I just finished my first book, a memoir, in which the voice is every bit my own raw emotional self. About to start my 2nd book which is fiction and in which I expect to be far more detached as a narrator. I suspect the same voice will be speaking in both, just with a different accent. Speaking of voice, Renee Jacobson, whose self deprecatingly playful voice I love, sent me over to discover your voice. So impressed by your words and the music within that I just signed up for your blog and the Gold level blog class. Thanks!

  21. #24 by harbingr on January 21, 2013 - 3:46 pm

    Two different definitions of voice to be mindful of; 1) tone, screechy, husky, whining, and 2) the passion behind the intent. I found my writer’s voice pleading, almost begging, today, as I pray for our Country and its leaders. God’s voice is described as thunderous, and like a thousand waterfalls, and also, the still small voice. Amen?

  22. #25 by Kerry Gans on January 21, 2013 - 6:56 pm

    I am struggling with voice in my current WIP. The frustrating thing is that my protag’s voice is clear as a bell in my head, but when I write it down that way, I get comments along the line of, “I don’t buy her as a teenager.” or “That doesn’t sound like something she’d say.” I want to say, “But that’s the way she TALKS!” So I’m not sure what to do to fix that, but that’s the main struggle with this WIP.

  23. #26 by tanlee3 on January 21, 2013 - 7:47 pm

    I read every email you send Kristen and just wanted to let you know how fantastic you are. This article in particular is brilliant.

  24. #27 by SweetSong on January 22, 2013 - 1:06 am

    Haha love the analogy! Really, I’m sure we could come up with a definition for “voice” if we had to… but it still wouldn’t /really/ define it, which is exactly your point! What you didn’t touch on here though is how malleable voice can be – we all use different voices when we right depending on what we’re writing. Yes, there is some bit that remains the same within it, but it can still be quite a drastic change. I know my voice changes depending on whether I’m writing a story or writing an essay.

  25. #28 by gabrielablandy on January 22, 2013 - 6:22 am

    I love the analogy here. I teach a workshop on the writer’s voice at Oxford and City University and it’s always great to get fresh perspectives, so thanks for sharing your ideas. On another note, after reading your tip about watching movies to learn further how to show not tell in writing, I happened to watch The Limey, which is such a great example of how to play around with narrative structure. I don’t think I would have noticed that if I hadn’t been reading your book, so double thanks!!

  26. #29 by jadwriter on January 22, 2013 - 8:38 am

    I think voice is what sets authors apart. It’s what they put in the story and how they interpret it. Yes, if I like an author’s voice that I’ve not read before I will buy the books, and have done so. I’d not read any of DD Scott’s ebooks until last year. I bought one and liked it and have bought most of her others because I like her writing.

  27. #30 by Widdershins on January 22, 2013 - 3:28 pm

    ROFL – ‘Smite the adverbs later’ – priceless!

  28. #32 by The Hook on January 24, 2013 - 2:32 pm

    Ths was BRILLIANT,Kristen!
    Personally, I love my writing voice. I have miles to go in other areas, but my voice suits me just fine…

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