Of Manuscripts and Voice

This past weekend, I participated in an online writers conference called Virtual Surrey, joined by other writers who couldn’t get to the Surrey International Wirters Conference (SIWC) this year. Virtual Surrey was put together and moderated by Deniz Bevan. I can only imagine the hours Deniz put into creating Virtual Surrey. By the numbers of participants and sessions, I’d say the conference and Deniz’ efforts were a success. I would like to thank her here.

In one session, we were asked how much cutting and tweaking we should do to fit our mss into genres or to fit “type” (novellas, short stories, novel) lengths. We were also asked how we develop a writer’s voice.

As a writer who’s had only one short story published, I’m hardly an authority, but here are my thoughts.

KNOW YOUR STYLE What’s your writing style? Short? Long? Mystery? Humorous? Contemporary? Historic?  Complex and involved? My stories fall into a mix of categories. I write complex stories, most of them historic, but contemporary, as well. About two years ago, however, I slashed and burned more than a third of my current historic mss in order to tighten the main story line and, since word count was an issue, to cut subplots and secondary character povs (hence lessening their story lines). All this has brought the main story and its characters into laser focus, and refined the pacing. Cut-wise, it’s about as far as I feel I can go, or perhaps it’s as far as I can SEE to go. Were an editor working to publish my mss to see and suggest more, I’d certainly be open to that. After all, this story is not my baby, it’s a means to an end, a vehicle to earn me a living, and that aside, I want the story to be the best it can be.

KNOW YOUR STORY Genre stories follow specific guidelines. Does yours? ATT is a historical romance, but it’s hardly genre romance. It has elements of time travel and has a character with simple psychic abilities, so it really doesn’t fit into any genre slot. I want to be true to the story, but I’m neither rigid nor robotic. Heck, if I were, I’d hack the story to death and make it fit the confines of a genre. But that would do more than strip the story bare, it would become a different story all together.

KNOW YOUR VOICE  Fiction writers develop an authorial voice, I believe, by virtue of the time and practice they put into their craft–writing, editing, revising and rereading our work while reading others’ works, both good and bad. The bad stuff shows us what not to do. Really good stories are primers, reinforcing elements of style, story-building, exposition or character development, offering us the opportunity to try out a concept or two in our own writing, blending them in or rejecting them as we see fit. In the end, though, our stories are our own, the way we frame them is our own. The way we edit and recraft them is our true writing self at work.

I realized I had developed my authorial voice somewhere around year five. At about that time, I began to notice that I was revising less. My writing had a cohesive voice in first drafts–the way I approached description, the way I used vocabulary, constructed sentences and the way those sentences sounded when read aloud, all that added up to my particular voice. Oh, I still had to revise and recraft. I like my images to be as perfect as can be, but I was spending much less time at it. My mind and imagination seemed to have collaborated on a sound they liked, that I liked, that I identify as mine.

3 thoughts on “Of Manuscripts and Voice

  1. Whew, year five you say? Good I’m not to worried that I’m still figuring it out.

    Love your comments on knowing your style and voice. I think that helps a lot towards making a stellar MS.

  2. Thanks for the shout out, Donna!
    I agree with you there – I’ve gotten more comfortable in my voice with each story I write. For one thing, I find I don’t struggle with description half as much as I used to because I’m more attuned to writing it through the pov character’s filter, and because I don’t worry so much anymore about what tone I should be writing in, as a narrator. Character trumps narrator!

    • You deserved the shoutout, Deniz. My pleasure. As for character trumping the narrator, I think it’s more like character becoming the narrator, because some character is always going to have the pov (unless you’re writing omniscient, when the narrator sees all from all angles).

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