Previously in Writing Skills: Voice—The Kudzu You Cultivate we talked about voice in your writing—how to decide if you want voice to color your writing, and how your voice takes off into the stratosphere.
But is Your Voice Always Channeling You?
This is where we get into the deep magic. You as Seiyū.
Seiyū is the Japanese term for voice actors. The Japanese take their voice actors seriously. They are idols, the Lady Gagas of Japan. Seiyūs go to specialized schools for perfecting their craft.
It’s a complex craft. While there are some Seiyūs who have made a reputation with one distinctive voice, the real rock stars often pull off one landmark performance after another. How can so many unique voices speak, sing, swear, swagger, from one throat? Sometimes it’s jaw dropping.
So how does this pertain to you as an author?
Think about it—you’ve seen both among your colleagues. Some authors speak with the same voice, one book after another, one series after another. Others vary—wildly, strategically, whimsically—from book to book. Has that ever occurred to you as rather strange considering the near-mythic status we’ve attached to distinct voice? There’s a whole level of dialogue here we rarely explore. We have Seiyūs in our midst—multi-voiced chimerical creatures. These authors aren’t channeling their voice—or they’ve found more than one radically different self to express.
We all do this to a certain extent when creating characters—and perhaps that’s why it doesn’t ping us as bizarre, that the author right beside us has a new voice with each new book. But it is odd, isn’t it?
A path of many voices.
Voice. This aspect of self, this aspect of craft, that many spend an entire career exploring—can change, seemingly overnight.
What the heck? Just how wonderfully weird are we?
Perhaps our peculiarity is deeper than we know. But now I’m curious—I want to poke at it with a stick, snare it in a net, imprison it in a specimen jar. What are we writer creatures? What metamorphosis do we undergo? Why doesn’t speaking with a different voice strike us as remarkable?
Not all Urban Fantasies have the same tone. Not all Science Fiction titles are interchangeable—not even those by the same author. Ender’s Game and Songmaster are both by Orson Scott Card—they are both two of my favorite books, but they both have very different voices. While authors who keep writing in the same voice book after book can gain unbelievable traction with the nostalgia crowd (I love these books too)—I have noticed a trend. Authors who stay frozen in the same voice indefinitely are more prone to fizzle—either due to decreasing zest for writing the same old thing, or due to just ceasing to write.
Authors who are constantly re-inventing themselves have more career longevity. They seem happier. Still thrilled decades later to be authors—still waking up early to write. Do they still revisit core characters? Do they have ongoing mega series? Yes. They do come home again—but only after they are fresh from a walkabout. Vision quests keep us young. And as purveyors of visions isn’t it our responsibility to regularly set off on those inner journeys into unfamiliar terrain?
Each genre rewards a slightly different type of voice. They have different emotional payoffs fueling their plot engines so this is no surprise. But if you can master one you should be able to make a good stab at one of the others. Read up on it certainly—think about how you want to pivot your style. But you are human, you’ve felt the allure of mystery, the loneliness for a soulmate, the news headline that pumped you up with adrenaline, or just sat down and watched Carl Sagan go hang gliding through the universe in awe. For that matter, when a new passion is fueling you, would you expect speak with the same voice? Old you can sit it out on the park bench while you dance with a new crowd.
Get out of your comfort zone. The most uncomfortable medium for me is usually humor. I don’t like comedies. There’ve been a few exceptions Mrs. Doubtfire, Coming to America, As Good as it Gets. But generally speaking, if you tell me a movie or show is a comedy, I’m not going—I don’t want to be subjected to your enthusiastic peer pressure proselytizing of how funny the face planting is. Just leave me be. I don’t want to watch cringeworthy shenanigans and suffering that makes others crack up. Humor is about pain—I usually feel the one too intensely under the other. I can’t help empathizing. Or wanting to just clobber the fool so I can go home. But I do like some humor—where idiosyncrasy intersects intelligence. I can even make people laugh when I put my mind to it. So I’m toying with a radical notion. When it comes time to actually publish—when I’ve got an agent and an editor, when my book is locked and loaded in the two year launch cycle of New York publishing—maybe I should face my demons.
Cracked is the biggest humor website on the internet. I reliably find their copy more hilarious than cringey. Similar thought patterns—I could swing that. Plus they actively don’t mind novice submissions and have a whole process set up to help support new talent and pipeline it directly into publication—to an audience of millions.
Millions who might then be interested in my upcoming book.
Will I need to hone my voice for that target audience? Yes. Will I need to adopt formatting and style guidelines? Yes. Is it totally worth it? Hell yes!
I’ll face my demons—with a plastic spork—and eat them for dinner, if it will get me an opportunity like that.
Blogging, articles, interviews—who are you really when you’re the real you in the real world? You can make this self fascinating and faceted. Fiction isn’t the only place where a novelist’s skills stand out from the crowd. If people love your spinnings they’ll like your mullings. Those thoughts that have fermented about your life and the world beyond your keyboard—try that voice out—its stronger than you might think.
Advanced Voice Tricks
Techniques can be for more than just jumping genre, or finding a new voice for a new work. What if we return to the place we started—the characters in one novel. How much variation can we add once we master our voice? Speaking so distinctively that we never have to worry about an attribution tag again?
We can go father. What about morphing the voice of a piece itself—this can be foolhardy if you off-put your readers into putting down the book. But you can lure them down the garden path, foreshadow, tease with tantalizing tastes, plunge, submerge, immerse, open vistas on wonder, flirt with the tipping point into horror. Wax literary, jump-cut back to commercial climax. Nestle one plot engine inside another—get experimental with your prose, subtle or shocking. Who and what you are as an author can morph, evolve, explode—you have more soul-stuff in you than you think.
Show your readers all your voices—make your mid-life crisis awesome, like the ratcheting intensity of a good thriller, like the variety of the best short story anthology ever assembled. Entrance us with the polyphony that is you. Rock your voices—be the Seiyū, we’re listening.