That’s not my voice.

“I am returning this otherwise good typing

paper to you because someone has printed

gibberish all over it and put your name at the top.”

Anon. English Professor, Ohio University

     Yesterday (from about 4am to 8am), I began work on my first thriller (book), The Long RoadThe Long Road is a story set in a small town in Northern California, a rather dark take on police corruption and murder.  I was working from a very detailed outline (some of which is line-by-line dialogue notes), and wrote 2,646 words before I finally went to bed at around 2pm.  Here’s my problem: What I’ve written looks nothing like what I intended to write.  As I was writing it, I was focusing entirely on how much I was writing, and I was entirely excited!

     “Oh, that’s 890 words.  …Passed 1,000.  1,500 words, yeah!  2-kay, baby!”  And then I watched a movie, wrote a little more, and went to sleep.  When I woke up around 8pm, I went to write some more.  So I looked over what I’d written… and I hated it.  It honestly looked like a cheap romance novel you’d find in a dark corner of the library somewhere, with glitter and sausage grease all over it.  I mean, the story was there.  The emotion, the intensity, the action.  But my writing was too… flippant.  I wondered if this was because of the material, which in the first few scenes involves the main character “being unfaithful” to his wife.  I can see it in my head as it plays out, a sad event, but what I’ve written reads more upbeat and frenetic, even quirky.  My problem, in essence, is… that’s not my voice.

     Where did I go wrong?  How did I write this scene so contrary to how I look at it?  My initial reaction was to think “Maybe that is my voice.  Maybe I’m just an upbeat, frenetic, quirky writer.  Maybe that will work?”  But I quickly realized that it’s a problem of sub-par writing, not of style.  When you want to take a picture in black and white, and it comes out in color, it’s a problem of you as a photographer not understanding the course of action needed to take the picture in monochrome – which today, of course, is simply selecting an option on a menu somewhere in your camera.  When my writing turned out differently than I wanted, I realized it’s not some secret, weird, cultish “You’ve found your voice!  You can’t deny your voice!” issue that was keeping me from achieving my desires.  It was a failure on my part as a writer.

     That doesn’t mean I can’t do it.  Honestly, I’ve had several chances since that I’ve wanted to sit down and start again.  I’ve been scared to.  Scared that it would turn out the same way and that would mean that it was my “voice,” and not simply a lack of skill.  But even now as I’m preparing myself to tackle this book again, starting from page one, I know that if I mess it up again and it comes out cheap and unpoetic, I’ll just save it as a different file, take a break and grab a coffee, go back to page one and start over.

     I’m very much hoping that I get it right this time around.  My other fear is that I’ll go 180 degrees in the other direction, and write some languid novel that reads like an unfunny version of Fargo.  Oddly, I think I’d almost prefer that…

     In the end, all you can do is write.  Your voice is not some inner spirit that graces your work, not something that you must climb to the top of Mount Metaphor to discover.  Your voice is not how you communicate a story.  It’s how a story communicates you.


One thought on “That’s not my voice.

  1. Interesting post. I’ve had this problem as well – stories that come out in an entirely different tone when you try to put them on paper. Sometimes it’s a good thing – and then you have to try and keep it consistent! Other times it’s just not right, and you have to scrap the scene and start over… whether or not you like it.

    Keep plugging away at your thriller!

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