Thursday, October 25, 2012

ABC's of Writing - (I)nvent Your Own Voice

Publishers frequently tell authors to "read what we publish." They do so to give the authors a chance to understand the voice of the publisher. I have actually talked about that a lot here on the blog. With that said, there are a lot of authors who miss this point and spend their time trying to figure out the storyline of what the publishers write. But then, here comes the big mistake... they treat it as a formula. The final result is simply a carbon copy of what is already out there.

The publishers don't want what they already have. They want something that has your unique storyline and style but is similar to the voice of the publisher. Again, let me remind you that when I am talking voice of the publisher, we are talking about the "sound" of the writing. Some publishers have a "lighter" tone and others have a more "literary fiction" feel.

Let me give you a great example of this one. One of my authors, Sharon Lathan, has been one of the lead authors with the Darcy series at Source Books. Now, while many would look at her stories as simply copying the original Jane Austen writing, a careful look at Sharon's writing would reveal something much more. When Jane Austen first wrote these stories, these were romances. Today, due to English Instructors and English Majors like myself, we have started calling this fiction and classical fiction.

In simple terms, historical fiction is a fictional story set in a historical context. This does not mean it has to be written about a REAL historical character and then fictionalized, although it can be. It is simply a fictionalized view of a historical time period. If it is historical women's fiction, then it is a view of a historical time period and/or even through the eyes of a woman. It is giving the reader a chance to understand the world through the lens of a woman. We want to know the female perspective on a historical time period. For it to be a historical romance, it is then a romance (this is the central story arc) but using the historical time period as a context.

I bring this up because there are many who believe that for a story to be historical fiction, it has to be about a real person. This couldn't be further from the truth. Author Harry Shaw notes that historical fiction "clarifies certain aspects of the history itself and of our situations as historical beings."

Now, let's return to Sharon's stories. Sharon has created a fantastic blend now writing what we call "historical fiction" and yes, we can even call these stories "historical romance". She has invented herself by using the stylistic elements of Austen but bringing it into the historical romance and historical women's fiction market. Her newest story truly is a historical fiction. Yes, there is a character that is connected to the Darcy line, but since the focus of the story is understanding George and his place in the historical context, it becomes historical fiction.

I bring all of this up with Sharon to demonstrate something crucial here. You know how your writing sounds. Work with that and bring that to the forefront but blend it with the style and the genre of your publisher.



  1. This 'ABC' is interesting to read. I wonder do you find that writers tend to write what they like to read themselves? I couldn't imagine writing horror, vampires, erotica or true crime and I don't choose these books when I read myself. But then I wonder if this makes me like the actors (Arnold Schwartzenegger comes to mind) who play the same or similar roles. They may play it well but each one is a reprise of the last. Should a truly talented writer be able to write different genres successfully? Many different genres?

  2. Cynthia,
    What we do find is that we do write things we like to read. Now with that said, it might not be the specific genre, but the type of writing. For example, I like reading historicals, but that doesn't mean I am good at writing them. What I like about historicals though applies to the level or writing I like and do. I write with a lot of layer and depth that you would normally find in historicals.
    In terms of your second question, the issue is not the quantity of genres but the quality. When you see writers able to move into other genres, they are often bringing the skills they have from one into another. Personally, a great example of this is Lisa Kleypas. Her historicals are great and then she moves into contemporary bringing that same depth and world building.