Thursday, April 28, 2011

You Make Me Want to be a Better Writer

by Maria Geraci

There is one thing above all others that makes a writer's work stand out. It's not great grammar, or great story structure, or even a unique story line (because let's face it, pretty much every story has been done before in some form or another).  What makes a writer stand out is voice. Voice is what makes you unique. It's what sells your books.

I clearly  remember the day that I met my editor (Wendy McCurdy at Berkley) for the first time. It was at the RWA National convention in Washington DC. We had breakfast together and were talking about things in general, and then we began talking about my books. And at some point in the conversation she looked at me and said, "I really love your raunchy voice." I must have looked a little stunned, because she smiled and said, "I mean that in a good way."

I've thought about that comment a lot (as you can probably imagine.) I write fun, romantic women's fiction (kind of a cross between chick lit and contemporary romance). The heroine in my first book (Bunco Babes Tell All) meets my hero when he catches her peeing in the bushes. In my second book (Bunco Babes Gone Wild) my heroine accidentally "flashes" my hero, and in my most recent book (The Boyfriend of the Month Club) in the very first opening scene, my heroine chips her tooth trying to open a shrink wrapped tampon. Huh. I think I get what Wendy was saying. Voice is not just about how you word things, it's your unique look at the world. It's the author's "big picture."

When I stumble across a really great book, one that I can't put down, it's usually because of the author's voice. This always makes me sit up and take notice. I'm not just a reader, I'm also a student and a good book always teaches me something (bad books teach me something as well, but we won't get into that today.)

I recently finished reading Eleanor Brown's debut novel The Weird Sisters. The story is about three sisters who reunite in their home town (each with secrets of their own) when their mother is diagnosed with breast cancer. The hook? Their father is a Shakespearan scholar who recites The Bard pretty much every time he opens his mouth. But what makes the book special and memborable is Eleanor Brown's voice. She creates such a unique world that you can't help but feel it, smell it, live it. The book is told in first person plural (we) and is absolutely fabulous. I used my Kindle highlighter to note some of the lines that really stood out for me.

Here is just a tiny selection:

See, we love each other. We just don't like each other very much.

She had gone from most favored nation to useless ally, from Cordelia to Ophelia.

Because despite his money and his looks and all the good-on-paper attributes he possessed, he was not a reader, and well, let's just say this is the sort of nonsense up with which we will not put.


Can I just say, I really really love that last line? I've read it countless times now and each time it makes me smile more. Reading Eleanor Brown makes me want to be a better writer. It makes me want to hone my own voice and sharpen it until it becomes all me, with nothing held back. Just a stick that pokes at my reader's emotions and makes them laugh or cry or startles them.

8 comments:

  1. Oh, I know just what you mean. I feel the same way when I read Laura Caldwell or Marcia Muller - I love their voice. And reading them is what keeps me going, keeps me writing, keeps me working on my writing, to be that good!

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  2. Hi Kathy,

    Isn't it great to be inspired by the authors we love to read?

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  3. Great post Maria.

    We learn so much from what we read. Although I confess that at times I get so intimidated by great writing that I swear I'll never write another word. But then I have stories to tell so...

    Thanks,
    Marian

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  4. Maria, I'm always telling my kids that voice is one of the keys to good writing so you hit on a topic that I love! Great post. I have to pick up THE WEIRD SISTERS now. I will add it to my growing TBR pile. Maggie

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  5. Maria, I've been hearing a lot about THE WEIRD SISTERS (which, I thought must be about me and my sister, for sure!). Now I really want to read it. Yes, voice, that's probably THE MOST important thing about any novel. Because if the voice doesn't draw you in, well, then the book is too easy to put down or not read at all. Your voice in THE BOYFRIEND OF THE MONTH CLUB is so engaging, so friendly and open, that I couldn't help but love Grace. I can only imagine how terrific THE UGLY GIRLFRIEND is going to be. I will be standing in line for it! Wonderful post, as always!

    Cheers,
    Susan (who could not post a comment as herself today either--what is up with Blogger?)

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  6. Maria--enjoyed the post! The voice draws us in and an author's unique outlook is what defines us as well. I loved the tampon twist and loved Boyfriend of the Month Club. Looking forward to The Ugly Girlfriend.

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  7. What a great post, Maria! I loved the introduction you gave us to The Weird Sisters and your commentary on voice itself -- esp. that part about wanting to sharpen yours until it becomes all you. Fabulous insight! Thanks ;).

    *waving to everyone at Stiletto and wishing you all a wonderful day*

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