Sunday, May 18, 2014

Reason for Requesting: Voice

My past two posts have been about reasons for rejection. But today, lets take a more positive approach and look at something else. Reasons why I request submissions, because I request a fair amount. I'd say that, on average, I request about 1/4 submissions I read. What makes that one submission stand out from the other three? What grabs hold of me and keeps me wanting more?

There are a lot of factors of course, but the number one reason is: Strong voice.

This is a hard answer to hear, I find. Mostly because 'voice' is so gosh darn hard to define. Every writer has a different voice and every character as well. Its hard to get voice just right. Try too hard and it sounds manufactured and contrived. Don't try hard enough and your pages will read as dull.

I define voice as this: when everything just reads 'right'. That's it. Voice is that magic element that helps all the others, including character, plot and setting, click into place. Its the super glue of writing. And yet its the hardest thing, in my opinion, to learn how to perfect.

So how do you improve your voice? In two steps:

1. Read books that you think have 'a good voice'. What do they do right? Why is the voice memorable? Is it because of the sense of humor? Is it the visceral imagery? What about the first page of your favorite novel sucks you in. Try to figure out what 'strong voice' means to you and that will help you to find your own writer's voice.

2. Practice. There's no better way to improve your writer's voice than practice, practice, practice. Write a few short stories and see what they have in common. What are some tropes that you like to use? What stuff sounds natural and what doesn't? Keep on writing until you hit your sweet spot.

These tips aren't exactly the end-all-be-all key to a good voice. But that's because no one else can find your writer's voice for you. Its something you have to find yourself. But once you hit it, trust me, the requests will start pouring in.


  1. Excellent advice! It encourages me to pick up some of the short stories I've written, and perhaps draft a few more.

  2. Voice LOOKS like "you have it or you don't" thing when you read a book that has it. Thanks for the reminder that this is not the case -- like everything, it is not just talent but craft.


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