Importance of the “It” factor – otherwise known as voice.

There have been some tremendous posts out there on the definition of voice. Everything from a technical break down – style, syntax, sentence structure, word choice, personality – to just flat out saying that it’s the “it” factor.

Yeah, no wonder we’re all wondering whether we’ve got it or not.

Factors that made me truly realize the importance of voice:

1. I helped a friend read through all the queries for NESCBWI Quick Query and place the letters with agents we felt would be interested. I loved the whole experience. But towards the end, it wasn’t the story premise of a letter that made us say aloud “Oo look at this one.”

It was the voice. And yes, it might have been just one line or a phrase. And yes, the ones with great voice were also well written.

2. Watching the top 12 perform for American Idol. All incredible singers. No doubt, they have the skill. But I could easily pick out the bottom three. They lacked originality. They lacked boldness. They lacked emotion and the connection with the audience. And that translates to voice in writing.

3. My Kindle. Don’t get me wrong. I love it. But I love books more. Books I know I’ll love – I buy. And I particularly like paperback. So before purchasing, I’ll download a bunch of samples (1-3 chapters). After reading them, I know which ones I’ll purchase. And it’s not usually about premise. A lot of it comes down to voice. And ultimately, great voice goes hand in hand with excellent writing and an emotional connection to the main character. I’m going to repeat that:

And ultimately, great voice goes hand in hand with excellent writing and an emotional connection to the main character.

4. And lastly, my daughter had a writing prompt at school. They had to justify the importance of an invention of their choice. Potentially could be boring. Her teacher ended up photocopying hers and handing it out to all the classes. She had the principal read it. And she wants to keep it for future years as an example.

My daughter wrote about flushing toilets and took a humorous approach, which was risky considering she didn’t really answer the question. But she had voice.

So, you want voice?

Be bold. Be original. Take risks. Go big. Read a lot. Write a lot.

Two books I’ll be purchasing based off their Kindle samples?

LIKE MANDARIN by Kirsten Hubbard, and

CRACKED UP TO BE by Courtney Summers

How about you? What books have you bought based off the voice on the first page or chapter?

36 Responses to Importance of the “It” factor – otherwise known as voice.

  1. Matthew Rush March 14, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    A couple of years ago I overheard my daughter talking to her Grandfather. They were talking about books and she asked him what he liked to read. He told her that he preferred to read for “the way a story is told,” not “for what it’s about.”

    That’s over-simplified, sure, but I like to think of that conversation when I think about voice. Some writers write so well that I would enjoy reading them no matter what happened in the story.

  2. Jen Daiker March 14, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    Voice is the key part of writing in my eyes. I believe I’ve nailed it in my manuscripts and I also believe that it’s something you either have from the get go or you don’t have it all. That being said it will require a TON of fine tuning but when you have it, you have it.

    I am 70 pages into LIKE MANDARIN and I can tell you right now that you are making a fabulous choice! It’s fantastic!! Now I’m off to find out what Courtney Summers is all about!

    • Laura March 14, 2011 at 11:58 am #

      Jen – I do think some writers have it right off the bat. But I also think it can be developed or fine tuned the more we write.

      Matthew – That’s a great way to put it!

  3. Wendy March 14, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    Mudbound. Captured me a while ago.

    I’m also reading House Rules by Jodi Picoult, a story about a young man with Asperger’s. Holding my attention b/c of the voice.

    ~ Wendy

  4. Stina Lindenblatt March 14, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    I haven’t read anything of LIKE MANDARIN yet, but my copy is in the mail (yep I took a risk that I would like the voice). Loved the voice for Cracked Up To Be.

    It is very subjective. What someone might think is a great voice, someone else might compare it to fingernails on a blackboard (okay, maybe not that servere).

  5. Michael Di Gesu March 14, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    Hi, Laura,

    I like your passion and spin on voice. Lately I haven’t had a free second to read. I miss it though.

    Yes, I do look for voice, but the story needs to be there for me too.

    I agree do that a talented author can make any subject/genre appealing, but not to read a whole book if the story itself isn’t strong enough.

  6. Michael Di Gesu March 14, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    Hi, Laura,

    I like your passion and spin on voice. Lately I haven’t had a free second to read. I miss it though.

    Yes, I do look for voice, but the story needs to be there for me too.

    I agree do that a talented author can make any subject/genre appealing, but not to read a whole book if the story itself isn’t strong enough.

  7. Lydia K March 14, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    Voice is one of those weird things that’s hard to describe, but when you read it, you know it.
    I’ll have to note those books that you picked out!

  8. Creepy Query Girl March 14, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    Woah, congrats to your daughter! You must be so proud!! I will be purchasing everything by Kristan Higgins. The voice in her first book totally hooked me and the same with her second. Each of her main characters have incredibly vivid, distinct voices that I relate to. It really does make a difference.

  9. Jennifer Hoffine March 14, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    I love what you said about excellent writing and connecting with character. So true.

    Character is the most important. Feel the story with the main character and the voice will come out.

    And the element of writing that (I think) gave me my voice is flow. Read your writing out loud and work on how “readable” the story is, and your voice will come through stronger.

  10. Anna Staniszewski March 14, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    A great voice just jumps out at you, doesn’t it? I felt that way with The Knife of Never Letting Go. I read the first sentence and knew I had to buy the book. I must say, though, that premise goes a long way with me. Sometimes I’ll dive into a book that has great ideas, even if I don’t love the voice.

  11. Angela Felsted March 14, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    Never underestimate the power of reading until your eyes feel like they’re going to melt. Nothing else can help with style like that can.

  12. Susan Kaye Quinn March 14, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    I have to say I don’t buy books because of voice, but I may put them down because of it (or lack of it). I will almost always buy based on premise, but if the voice awful, it will make me stop reading (lack of plot will also do this).

    I like the idea of boldness! A friend (Bryan Russell) once said voice is confidence in the writer. I can’t agree more. 🙂

    • Laura March 14, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

      Thanks for the comments everyone! I guess I like such a variety of books from humor to thriller to romance to issue-related that the only thing I can see in common is the writing, the way I connect to the character and the voice! And yes, we all like different premises and different voices – i guess that’s what makes writing so exciting though – don’t you think?

  13. Kris March 14, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    How cool for your daughter! And proud Mama!

    Voice is tricky–I always worry that I’ll have trouble finding a new one for my new WIP. I think I’ve got it down for current project.

  14. MG Higgins March 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    As with another commenter, voice doesn’t keep me from buying a book, but the most memorable ones have a strong voice. Sometimes I define “voice” as confidence. That said, just because there’s a strong voice doesn’t mean I’ll love a book. I’ll be just as annoyed with a plot full of holes even if written with a strong voice.

  15. Susan Sipal March 14, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    Congratulations to your daughter! Obviously writing talent flows through the family. 🙂

    Love your post on voice. I do think that voice is a skill that can be acquired through learning and writing. However, I think the biggest way to gain voice is through living and facing adversity in our own lives, because I think voice flows from our own lives and our own experiences (though that doesn’t mean clone).

  16. Paul Greci March 14, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    Great post, Laura!! Books I bought based on voice from the first paragraphs–most books I buy I do so b/c of reading the first little bit–but most recently I purchased Across the Universe after reading the first few pages.

    • Laura March 14, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

      But don’t you all usually find that if a book has great voice that is also well written and with a pretty good plot? there are books where I don’t care for the voice or the kind of plot – but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t well written. I think craft, voice, plot seem to develop together, though a writer can be stronger in one of the areas. What do you think?

  17. Leigh Moore March 14, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    Hooray for your daughter! And ooo, I want to get that Like Mandarin book… I haven’t used my Kindle in the way you describe, but I do see how voice would be a big player in that feature~ Thanks, Laura! :o) <3

  18. Lisa Green March 14, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    I know what I need to do now. I need to go READ. I haven’t had a spare minute lately and I have books literally piling up – both on the KINDLE and in my house. And yes voice is what keeps me reading too!!

  19. Margo March 14, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    Like Mandarin is next on my list too. So true about voice! About a month ago Nathan Bransford had a first paragraph contest on his blog and you could read all the entries (over 1000!) I read like 200 before I burned out – and the ones that stuck out had voice. It was amazing how fast everything blurred together, even the ones with a great premise.

  20. Karen Lange March 14, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

    Good point! Good post! And kudos to your daughter for her success! 🙂

  21. Tana Adams March 14, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

    I read The Sky is Everywhere because the voice was sooo good!! Also I just finished the Life of Pi which was more story driven, but the voice was so unique it drew me in as well. Thank you for the recommendations too! I’m going to check those books out!

  22. Karen Strong March 14, 2011 at 7:30 pm #

    Totally agree with you on the American Idol thing, the choice of song and the delivery definitely can sort out what works and what doesn’t.

    There are two books that I’m reading right now that I purchased just because I really loved the voice of the characters (1st POV):

    WHITE CAT by Holly Black and CLARITY by Kim Harrington.

    • Laura March 14, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

      Seriously, the wonderful thing though is voice that I love – someone else might not. That means there are readers for every kind of writer! hopefully.

  23. Lynda Young March 14, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    Great post on voice. Well said. Voice is the hardest element to edit too and yes it does take courage to write with voice.

  24. Jessica March 14, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

    Good for your daughter for being herself. 😉 And hmmm. Voice I picked up on right away? One book, which I never would have read, to be honest, if a friend hadn’t suggested it, was IMMORTAL BELOVED. I loved her voice. Another would be Jandy Nelson. Can’t wait to read her next thing. I also love John Green’s. =)

  25. Jessica March 14, 2011 at 9:53 pm #

    Oh, and how could I forget? I absolutely LOVE Jonathan Tropper!

  26. Talei Loto March 14, 2011 at 10:55 pm #

    Absolutely. The voice is what nails it for me too. Compelling characters yes, but its the voice that draws me in.

    Nice topic btw, thanks for sharing! And, I’m definitely buying Like Mandarin, its on my TBR list.

  27. Terri Tffany March 14, 2011 at 11:29 pm #

    Awwww, voice. The day someone says I’ve found mine, I will celebrate. I love when I read a great book because of voice–it is the defining element of any book.

  28. Heather Sunseri March 14, 2011 at 11:30 pm #

    Love this, Laura! Excellent points on voice. And you’re so right. If a voice doesn’t grab me, I can easily move on to the next book in my pile.

  29. shelley March 14, 2011 at 11:40 pm #

    That is exactly why you have to be bold and write the stuff that only you can write. I mean, if you don’t, who will?

    Voice = bravery on the page.

  30. Michelle Dennis Evans March 15, 2011 at 2:04 am #

    great post… really enjoyed reading it… must have been the great voice … 😉

  31. Amie Kaufman March 15, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    First, an aside: Rawr, Like Mandarin isn’t available in Australia on Kindle, much sadness!

    Second, yes, totally, I buy books based on their first few lines all the time, and every time it’s about voice. Which is such an excellent point that I’m going back right now to revise my first few lines…

  32. Jennifer Shirk March 16, 2011 at 10:15 pm #

    Oh, that’s so cool about your daughter! Just the premise of flushing toliets had me smiling! 🙂

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