You would think that having been an editor for over twenty years with On Spec Magazine, I'd appreciate all the different voices On Spec has showcased over the years. I do, but short fiction only gives you a sampling of that unique way each writer handles their prose - what we call Voice. Reading novels in quick succession really brings Voice home to me - especially if I know the writer personally. It's amazing to read beyond plot, beyond character, and to realize how characters approach situations, and how the story is paced, really does reflect the writer.
Okay, pretty obvious on the surface, but I'm talking about subtleties here. For example, one of my writer friends approaches conflict in a certain way. She thinks a lot about the issue before she acts, she moralizes, she tends to talk a good argument, she plans, and, in the end, she side-steps or defuses the conflict whenever possible. She also handles conflict in her fiction in exactly this way. Where some may throw themselves into the fictional fray with swords swinging, guns blazing, karate chops chopping (because they tend to be a bit more volatile in life), she doesn't. I'm not saying either way is good or bad - there is room for both. Readers enjoy different things. Only that how she acts and thinks reflects how she writes, which mirrors her Voice.
I mentioned in an earlier post that my book The Tattooed Witch was included in an Aurora Awards StoryBundle curated by Douglas Smith. As part of the promotion, those of us who were involved, promoted the Bundle on our blogs, on Twitter, and elsewhere. Hayden Trenholm, publisher of Bundoran Press, wrote this about me: "I've known Susan MacGregor for enough years that I can't quite remember...in any case, we met from time to time at conventions in Western Canada, both when I lived in Calgary and later...where we would have brief but intense conversations..."
Brief but intense conversations. I had to smile at that. Because that is me. It also reflects how I handle my prose, how I write, my style of Voice.
As I read, I sometimes find how others handle a scene is not how I would, either pace-wise, or character-wise, or what have you. We all have our different styles. But I also began to wonder how an editor of novels respects the work without insisting an author's voice adhere to their preconceived notions of what is right (or better). So I asked an expert, my own editor and publisher at Five Rivers, Lorina Stephens. Lorina writes:
"How do I manage to edit all these different voices and honour them? Respect the artist’s work. Don’t put your hand to it. Suggest. Guide. Nurture. It’s difficult sometimes because I know how I’d handle a story or scene. But that doesn’t necessarily make it the right way. As an editor I think you have to walk out of yourself and learn to view artistic expression with a broad view, to understand, to learn.I've learned a lot personally from voices like Thomas King, Joseph Boyden, Richard Wagamese, Salman Rushdie, Rohinton Mistry. Particularly Rushdie. I am always blown away by his writing, how he gets away with breaking every rule and does so brilliantly. How he chooses words and structure carefully and with precision to suit the action, mood, and voice of the work or scene. Simply brilliant. But not easy to read. By no means. He makes no apology whatever for his work. I believe he simply writes for himself, and if anyone else enjoys or gets what he's doing, well great. But otherwise, as Sting has said, "I'll write for the cat."
Well said, Lorina. I'll finish with two quotes by Steven King. The first, because many writers, when they're starting to write, get caught up in what might be popular: "First, write for yourself, and then worry about the audience." The second has to do with Voice: "Stick to your own style. One cannot imitate a writer's approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what that writer is doing may seem."
So, we all have a Voice, even if we don't think we do. It's just a matter of being yourself and putting down those words.