On Voice

I've discovered something: blogging isn't a nightmare. Or a chore. It's actually very natural and easy.

That probably sounds like a laughable discovery, I know. But I have put off entering the blog sphere (even though everything and everyone in the publishing/writing industry says that it's essential for writers - published or not - to have a web presence and, preferably, a sizable following) for so long because I thought that blogging would be as hard for me as journaling.

I am horrific at journaling. I like the look of journals. I like the idea of journaling. But I find myself utterly incapable of keeping a journal. I thought blogging would essentially be a online journal and so I avoided it, avoided it, and avoided it some more. It turns out, though, that (for me at least) blogging is nothing like journaling. I've been thinking about why that is, and I think I figured it out. Well, I have a working theory at any rate. 

It has to do with the concept of voice. 

Every single one of my journaling endeavors ended with me ripping out the pages, crumpling them into messy little balls, and throwing them in the trash. I couldn't stand to read what I had written because it sounded so fake. I wasn't on the pages. Some high-toned and fancy-to-do version of me was. But when I clicked the publish button of my first blog post, I was completely comfortable with what I had written. It sounded like me. My voice was right. (Don't ask me why I can get my voice through on a blog and not in a journal  because I have absolutely no idea)

The more I think about voice, the more I start to understand what my instructor was talking about when she critiqued the early versions of my manuscript: that my characters were two-dimensional. At the time, the comment was hardly helpful. Not because she was wrong (she was right), but because I didn't know what she meant or how to fix it. Now I do.

The key to living, breathing characters is that they have their own voice. I know I probably sound like a crazy person, talking about imaginary people having unique voices, but it's true. The primary difference between the first two drafts of my manuscript and the final one is that I knew how my characters would say the things they say. I knew their voices. That's when they came alive. I was revising a scene, read a line of dialogue, and thought, "He would never say it like that."

That's when I knew I had a story. The plot line hadn't changed. The setting was exactly the same. The conflicts and resolutions were as they always had been. But now I was working with characters that were alive instead of cardboard cutouts. Once I knew their voices, everything else fell into place and the story improved tremendously. 

The only trouble with voice is that its not something you can create. Not really. And I know that sounds ridiculous. I mean, I'm the author, I should be able to make my characters be and do and say anything I want. Here's a secret: it doesn't work that way. To a degree, yes, it does. But if my characters are so static that they don't give me problems, I have a bigger problem - I don't have a story. I just have a bunch of words strung together on a piece of paper. And those kind of words aren't worth much at all.


  1. Some very deep thought here. Certainly has made me think about a thing or two. Very well written

  2. I'm glad to hear that. And thank you :)

  3. Do you think that the fact that journaling (in the sense that I understand it anyway) is a personal thing for you, where no one else will probably ever see, and blogging, where other people can see, might be a cause of your disdain for one and your new-found love for the other?

  4. I think it has more to do with the expectations and perceptions I have of each.

    I think of journals as being highly intimate and secret. And as such, ought to contain highly intimate and secret things. Well, I don't have any highly intimate and secret things to hide away in the pages of a journal. I think I ended up trying to force everyday I-did-the-laundry-and-school kind of things into sounding like initmate details of my life. And that just sounds silly. (Because it is silly).

    Blogging, on the other hand, I expect to be very down to earth; just regular people talking about their regular lives. So, I can post about anything and it feels real. Because it is.

    Does that make sense?

  5. Eh, I think your view of journals is too girly ;-)

    Journals are whatever you make of them. For me, the idea of recording all of my dark secrets in a place where they could ever be discovered is a terrifying idea I wouldn't consider. Therefore, inasmuch as I keep journals, they just record happenings and my thoughts and reactions to those happenings. I find that I'll typically write as if it's intended to be read, even if it's not. Maybe you should try something like that.

  6. Well, I am a girl...that might have something to with it ;) I could also be confusing journaling (a record of events) with keeping a diary (locked books of secrets).

    Good point. I've had similar thoughts, and I've tried that too. But then it feels like I'm talking to myself.

    If I'm just recording events and my thoughts/reactions to them, then I'd rather write them in a letter and send it to a friend. Because A) I like writing letters and B) I know my friends like receiving letters.

  7. Well, I talk to myself all the time, so I guess it's more normal for me :-)

    A significant disadvantage to letters is that you tend to not keep them, and then your record of events disappears. And as for a blog, I think there's always something special about paper. I do have some stuff on facebook that I intended to be read, but my deployment journal and bible notebook will stay off the web if I can help it, and that's how I like it. I do tend to be a fairly secretive person though, so it fits me. Good luck with your journalistic endeavors.


Do share your thoughts - I enjoy reading them :)