Friday, May 6, 2011

Hearing Voice(s)

As writers we are familiar with the anatomy of a story, the little pieces that make the whole.  From adverbs to tense, plot to pacing, we can point to the word on any given page and say - "There it is, I see it."  All plots can be reduced to a witch's hat; a physical manifestation of the course of the story.  The bones and muscles, sinews and capillaries that compose the body of our story exist in a very real sense.

So what about the soul?

That's what I call "voice."

And if you find me an accurate diagram of a soul, make sure you tell the Pope too. Chances are, he'll be interested.

Voice is the ephemeral personality of the story, whether it be cocky attitude or wistful pondering.  Voice is the single most difficult variable in writing, the make or break that's going to connect your reader or turn them off like a radio dropped in the toilet.  And it's impossible to explain.

I was at a conference where a panel of agents and editors were asked by an audience member, "How do you define voice?  And please don't tell me you know it when you see it."  An agent promptly took the mic and said, "I know it when I see it."

It's like asking someone - "Why do you like your friends?"  Uh well, she's nice, and uh, funny, and... well, she's... my friend.  Can you reduce your friends to adjectives?  No.  You connected with them because of their personality, because their internal, intangible voice said something to your own - and you began a conversation.

One more metaphor as I attempt to define the impossible.

If you look at a diagram of a flower, you won't see smell labeled.

Yet what do we think of when we think of a rose?  Or a hyacinth? Or heck, even a big fat pile of dog crap? Smell.  And if you pick any of those things apart, you're not going to find "smell" in there. It radiates from the whole but can't be singled out.

And so with voice.


MarcyKate said...

Love the friend and flower analogies! That's a great way of looking at voice!

Anonymous said...

Great Post! It reminds me of Query Shark posting queries that break ALL the rules, but get to yes. Why? Because of VOICE!!!

And I know in my own reading, good voice covers over a multitude of sins.

Jenny Phresh said...

Nice post on the mysteries of that magic elixir. Love the flower diagram. I think a scent is radiating from it!

Mindy McGinnis said...

Jenny - it was so hard not to post a big pile of dog crap instead. : )

Thanks for dropping in ladies!

Anonymous said...

Great post. So much...voice!

Hugs for defining the impossible.

Anonymous said...

Yes, soul. That is the right word. I had used the word "attitude" once, but "soul" is much better.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Aw shucks, thanks my AQ'ers :)

Bethany C. said...

Spot-on breakdown of a very difficult concept. Well, done!

(In your free time I'd love to hear your deconstructed opinion of the last season of Lost. I'm still confused.)

Mindy McGinnis said...

Bethany - absolutely! I can talk about LOST forEVAH! I have to re watch that last season though before I can give you a good breakdown. I said I was letting it sit, and it's been sitting.

My summer is going to be focused on writing the DRINK sequel and rewatching LOST. And I mean like from Pilot, baby!

Bethany C. said...

Will you please, PLEASE do a blog series on the meaning of Lost?! (With lots and LOTS of pictures of Matthew Fox)

Mindy McGinnis said...

Bethany - I'd be glad to share my thoughts with you as I rewatch! Email me and we'll work it out.

In the meantime - check out Jeff Jensen's thoughts over on TotallyLost on Entertainment Weekly's site. In a nutshell - I agree. "),,20313460,00.html

Anonymous said...

Great post, Mindy.

Now that your on a roll, describing the indescribable, let's talk about the nature of Quantum Physics. ;)

Well done, Girl. Well done indeed.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Thanks Peter :) And I totally have a Quantum Physics post allllll lined up :)

Lora said...

Amazing post, and I love the analogies you used to convey something so intangible and difficult to define.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Thanks for dropping in Lora! I've got all kinds of summer fun planned - stay tuned!