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It’s The Voice That Sells
by Denise Vitola

Most new writers send me their manuscripts and while many are serviceable, they lack the color and intensity required to find publication among the big boys of New York City. What their writing needs is voice. Voice can't be taught; it's acquired, and once you have it, you have writing sales waiting to happen.

I sold my first novel to a major publisher because I'd concentrated on building a story around a unique and unusual voice. It was different enough to attract the attention of an agent and then a managing editor. You, too, can make a ho-hum manuscript sing if you gild it with personal style.

So, what is voice? It's how the storyteller 'sounds' to the reader. It's how he places words on the page; the cadence of his sentences; the volume and vibrato in which he relays his ideas. Good use of voice keeps your prose from being lifeless and flat. A clear, individual voice allows readers to identify your writing. It's about presentation and distinctive quality.

Consider some of the literary greats and how you can easily recognize them from their writing voices:

Mark Twain--a folksy voice. He writes about a Connecticut Yankee and we still hear his Missouri twang. His word choice, as well as his sentence structure, is straight from the Heartland.

Edgar Allen Poe--a dark, dirge-like voice. His sentences are written like he is walking through a fog-shrouded, London night. When you read Poe, you sense that he's whispering to you of mysteries better left unsolved.

Charles Dickens--a voice filled with charcoal dust and Victorian correctness. You feel crusty after you read his smoky paragraphs.

Isabel Allende--a voice with such chocolate richness that you can almost imagine the sweet, dark smoothness of her words as she gently stirs the story around you.

Neil Gaiman--a funny, every man's voice. His words seem to end in a chuckle, and even the serious passages come across with a wink and a smile.

How do you develop a voice? By being aware. Listen to how people use their words. Are they speaking with an accent? Are they using slang? Do their sentences have a lilting quality? Do you hear a clipped, concise speech pattern or a soft, feathery drawl? Notice conversations and tune your ear to hear the differences.

Quiz yourself. What type of person are you? Vibrant? Silly? Melancholy? Do you see the world through an angry, red haze or do you see it with rose-colored glasses? Do you normally use certain words to describe your thoughts? How do you sound?

Read to study. When you find an interesting novel, enjoy the story, but read it with an eye to the writing. Discover what you like about the way the story is told and how it sounds in your head. Try reading certain passages out loud to hear the rhythm of the words. Reread some of your favorite passages and pay attention to word use and frequency.

I always recommend that my clients practice writing from first person POV. This exercise enhances the internal narrator. It places the writer inside the skin of the story's main character and forms an intimate bond between creator and creation. Third person point of view distances you from the characters and will make your voice stilted. By writing in first person POV, you develop a natural, comfortable style.

Understand that once you develop your unique voice, this style will swing only a few degrees to either side of your comfort zone. You may choose to tell a story using more formal language, or you may try to add a bit of dialect and slang into your piece, but when you hash out the basic sound of your voice, you'll see that it doesn't vary much from your basic technique. It's as if we fall into a regular pattern of writing that remains constant throughout our lives.

Genre fiction such as science fiction, fantasy and horror rely heavily on unique voice. These markets are always hot--they never go out of fashion--and editors never stop looking for that distinct combination of story and memorable voice. Increase your chances of getting noticed right out-of-the-gate by delivering a storytelling voice they will just have to buy.

© Copyright 2007, Denise Vitola

Denise Vitola is a best selling author who has written eleven novels for Putnam and TSR, Inc. Her wildly successful Ty Merrick Mystery Series was recently optioned by Hyperfilms, Inc., of Universal City, California. Denise's short stories have appeared in Amazing Stories Magazine and several science fiction and fantasy anthologies. Her short story, "Deja Wound" is a 2000 Eppie Award Finalist.

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