What I learned about voice from Simon Cowell

I’ll admit it. In the cold dark days of January I’ve been know to drag my frostbitten butt home from work, put on my sweat pants, inhale a Mars bar for dinner followed by a chaser of lemon pie filling (not the pie, just the filling), listen to the north wind howling and pray to all the pray guys for a Chinook.

It’s times like this when I lay on the couch covered in a slanket (or snuggie – take your pick) and watch American Idol. Being a writer, I am racked with guilt about actually relaxing and not writing. To salve my guilty writer’s conscious I had to figure out what I was learning from this. I learned a lot about discovering your authentic voice from Simon Cowell.

I don’t know much about singing. Even though my ipod has 642 songs on it, I tend to listen to the same thing over and over. I still have a mixed cassette tape from the 80s of Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park. And I just found out that Amy Winehouse actually does not want to go to rehab – who knew? So when there was someone who I thought was good, inevitably Simon said something like: “you’re imitating, it’s like Karaoke, you have a good voice, you just have to find your own voice.”

What is voice for a writer? Editors and agents say they are looking for writing with a strong voice. But strong voice is like the Sasquatch Man, you hear a lot about it, everyone is looking for it, and when you find it, you’ll know. Narrative voice is the style, tone, pacing, and perspective of the piece. The essence of your characters, all they have experienced and hope to experience, comes through their voices. Voice is what sucks you in from the first line and holds you until the last. It’s what makes your writing unique. The point of view character in my novel Dead Frog on the Porch has a strong voice. That was one thing I heard over and over on my journey to publication. As a writer you need to discover your own voice, and the voices of your characters.

How do you discover your own voice? Develop your voice through writing what feels authentic to you. Strip away the fear that others will read, and read into, your work. Find the voices of your characters and run with them. The more you write, the more the unique voices of your characters will emerge.

Hey, stop hogging the slanket, I'm trying to watch TV here.


Seamus said…
Nice piece. The several narative voices in my (as yet unpublished) writing come from my head and they almost always indicate my disposition to the work itself. I wonder if I should discipline myself to use only one? I'd miss the others.

I have a great deal of fun with character voices. It's like a stage routine, where I get to be an impressionist (like Rich Little, not Monet) without the stage fright. Incidentally, I have a modest blog that is nothing more than playful jags on character voices. Take look, when you get a chance. http://oh-thereyouare.blogspot.com/