I think it’s been, like, over a year since I’ve been telling my agent that I’ll have something new for her. And like, look, I did start these projects. But oh my god, I couldn’t for the life of me sit still during this whole pandemic business. Which is why I’m very proud to announce I finished a new short story! I think, and I’d hate to assume, that I’m finally getting some of the precedented timey ways of my writing self back. :crosses fingers, mine and yours:
Also, I have edits to do on MONSTERS BORN AND MADE, which I’m insanely excited about.
At the same time, I can feel that weird oh-no-what-if-I-break-this-draft voice creep up again. I’m so new at this whole publishing thing that, I think, the fear of not being able to prove myself is worsening. Can’t help it, just have to go through it.
And maybe cry a little.
Talk myself off the metaphorical ledge.
And definitely do not message my agent asking if it’s too late to back out.
[Intervention right before pressing that schedule issue button: this next section wasn’t meant to get away from me like it did, but c’est la vie.] [Le newsletter?]
In the spirit of revisions, I have Some Thoughts. Recently, my friend Kate Dylan tweeted
that she worries about her prose not being “lyrical” enough. I had an instant reaction to it, something I wasn’t aware I even thought about. But as it turns out, I do.
I have written multiple manuscripts in the past ten years of serious writing, and I used to think my voice could be described as: lush. Except all through that time I was writing a particular type of fantasy. It made sense for the voice of the story (not the character) to sound similar. And for a fantasy, to be “lush” and dramatic was the best thing in my head. I used to think I had found my voice as a “writer” and I couldn’t be more wrong.
There’s so much emphasis on the “voice” of a manuscript. Every agent, every editor, every rando on twitter who calls themselves a Cultural Critic™ wants a novel with a voice that will sweep them away. And none of them can ever pinpoint what exactly a “voice” is. The Cultural Critic may, in fact, not even know what they’re looking for but just know that they can’t stand Sally Rooney and want something with “substance.” [Substance here means that for some reason they think that when they review a sci-fi like Klara and the Sun, they’ll pretend it’s “literary.”]
So what would make a voice—language? Style? Tone? Mood?
In my not-so-new opinion, all of it because it always comes down to the prose matching the story. If the British historical show Peaky Blinders was shot not in the familiar blue-gray tone but the warmth and redness of Money Heist, what impact would Tommy Shelby’s glare have?
All of that—the smoke in the air, the tarry streets of Birmingham, the dark and muted palette, the large use of shadows—combines to form the “voice” of Peaky Blinders. The same showrunner and room of writers, if they were to produce another show featuring British gangsters but set in the contemporary era, using the same subdued and chilly atmosphere of Peaky Blinders, would immediately make the new thing stand out as pretentious at best. Which I can say is the exact word I would use for the many imitations of Eragon I tried to write longhand as a teen.
Voice comes from the story itself. A morbid story has a situation. What is it? Where does it fit in the world? Who is the character? Because if written with deadpan humor of an atheist lesbian in a church, this story can give be Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead or, written with the terrible gravity of an impoverished student resorting to murder an elderly person for money, Crime and Punishment.
Both the above mentioned novels deal with death, mental obsessions, and human condition. But one is about staying afloat and learning to move forward, and the other is about the disastrous mental anguish that is the consequence of moral corruption.
What is your through-line? What is the spine of this story that carries the body? If I know that one straight line, its weight and the number of bones involved, I’d be in a better position to figure out the shape and size of bones around the spine to help it. If that calculation is wrong, the bones would drop in a whole mess.
No body, no voice.
By order of the Peaky Blinders.