Have you ever picked up a book—a romance, one that the blurb promises to be a story that’s right up your alley—and found that it just doesn’t do it for you?
The story, the theme, even the author, they all guarantee that you should have a great read. But somehow, it doesn’t. So you put it aside and go find something else that does.
What makes the difference between a romantic story that grabs your imagination and one that puts you to sleep?
It’s the voice. Even if the stories are similar, the voice of the one you can’t forget could be all the difference. Voice and style are ephemeral things, hard to define and hard to categorize.
Now, when it comes time to write your own romance, you have that challenge to overcome.
Can you develop your own voice and style?
Of course you can! You already have your own, you know. All you have to do is identify it and shape it into the sparkly jewel you know it can be. Your authorial voice is as distinctive as the one emanating from your throat, complete with rasps and swallows and hesitations, the little breaks in your timbre as you talk about something emotional and close to you. Your voice is YOU.
To discover that elusive something in your writing, in our class, we’re going on a voice hunt.
We’re going to examine some well-known books and well-known authors and figure out why they’re so distinctive. Let’s dig into the secrets of voice and style and find out how you can make your story the one that keeps your readers riveted to the page!
Example: Jennifer Crusie, Strange Bedpersons
Crusie’s voice and style rings true in whatever she writes. In the same way that William Faulkner’s style is fixed in its Southern roots, Crusie’s voice is true to her Midwestern roots.
In this example, through her words, we as readers can discern the tumult of emotions that greet Tess, in a breezy style that reminds us of the romantic comedies of an earlier time. Through the dialogue we can guess at Tess’s history with Nick, and what happened to end it is clear in the comparison of his face (“nice human contrast”) to his “perfectly tailored” suit.
When Tess Newhart threw open her apartment door, Nick Jamieson was standing there—tall, dark, successful and suspiciously happy to see her, his pleasantly blunt face a nice human contrast to his perfectly tailored suit. She stared at him warily, fighting down the ridiculous jolt of relief, happiness, and lust that welled up in her just because he was back.
Then he threw his arms wide to hug her.
“Tess!” he said, beaming at her. “You look great!”
Tess looked down at her sagging, bleach-splotched sweats. So much for relief, happiness and lust. She rolled her eyes at him, all her suspicions confirmed. “Right.” She slammed the door in his face and shot home both dead bolts.
In just a few words, we get everything we need about the story.
The humor is in the way she sets up the situation and the characters. She doesn’t get fancy and her words are straightforward, but she gets the point across as decisively as the way Tess relocks her door.
Crusie works an unexpected appearance by a former lover into a punchline—and does it with panache. She works particularly well with juxtaposition, even in limited words. A few paragraphs later, as Tess explains to her friend about her history with Nick:
“Nick looked like a Kennedy cousin. I looked like a rutabaga with hair. All over Riverbend, people looked at that picture and said, “What does he see in her?” Tess shook her head again. “We definitely do not belong together.”
In the first pages, Crusie’s voice gives us imagery and the theme of opposites attracting, just like that, with the effortless feel of a rom-com.
We’ll be examining a number of authors with voices and styles both classic and modern. With writers ranging from familiar to not-so-familiar, we’ll take a close look at the historical voice, the contemporary voice, the rom-com voice—even the fantasy voice!—so you have plenty of examples to help you figure out your own voice and writing style.
To learn more, join us in Searching for Your Romance Voice & Style. The class starts July 17, 2019.
Over the years, Elizabeth Flynn, who writes as Eilis Flynn, has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, fantasies (romantic, urban, and historical), and short stories. She’s also a professional editor and has been for 40-some years, working with academia, technology, finance, genre fiction, and comic books. She can be reached at emsflynn.com(if you’re looking for an editor) or at eilisflynn.com(if you’re looking for a good read).