Take A Risk – Stay True To Your Voice

The following post is by Jennifer Stanley, author of Stirring up Strife.


You’re ready to write a novel. You’ve outlined all twenty-three chapters and plan to write about vampires in a fresh, exciting, and bound-to-be profitable way. Soon, Twilight fans will have a new obsession and you’ll be raking in the profits from the bestselling novels, movie rights, and merchandising.

Or not. In fact, the rejections of the proposal it took you six months to create have cited something “missing” in your voice. How could that be? You penned a supernatural love affair for the ages! It should be sent straight to the most powerful editors, not to the slush pile!

Don’t despair.

I’ve been there too. I’ve written more than one less-than-stellar proposal, believe me. Back when chick lit was all the rage and any book resembling a Sex in the City episode flew off the shelf, I decided to pen a chick lit-style mystery. My agent (the fabulous Jessica Faust of Book Ends) regretfully informed me that my voice wasn’t working. She was right. My attempts to form a plot focusing on cocktails, high fashion, and one-night stands fell flat. Road kill flat.

The book wasn’t me. Chick lit was selling, but I couldn’t write it. These days, vampires are hot, but I can’t write them either.

Then what do we do, fellow writers, when we can’t put our spin on what’s already selling? We color our voice with personal experience.

If an experience can move you, then it can move your readers as well. Case in point: I’d returned to church after a twenty-year hiatus and, inwardly kicking and screaming, joined a monthly Bible Study group. Taking this risk changed me. The people in the group changed me. I assumed they’d be a bunch of stuffy, judgmental, humorless, blue-haired Republicans and, except for the Republican part, I was completely wrong. They were flawed, funny, courageously honest, generous, beautiful, and wise. I’d never laughed so freely or cried so openly as I did in their presence.

I wanted to write about these precious people. I wanted them to solve crimes, to puzzle over obscure clues, to ensure that good triumphed over evil. In the end, I wrote a mystery series about church folk and two major publishing houses offered to buy it. And there wasn’t a single vampire in my proposal. I was in heaven (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Your richest, most believable voice will be born out of dozens of such personal experiences. So don’t get hung up on Carrie Bradshaw or Bella Swan or whatever the next trend may be. After all, you don’t want to ride a trend; you want to start one. Forget what you think people are looking for and write your story. Your voice will outshine even the glitteriest vampire.

Jennifer’s new release, Stirring Up Strife, is published by St. Martin’s Press.

Available at your local bookstore or Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Borders. To contact the author please visit www.jbstanley.com

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4 thoughts on “Take A Risk – Stay True To Your Voice

  1. Great advise, but just a nagging question at the back of my head – would this somehow lead to the same story with recycled plotlines, over and over again? What if you do find your voice, but grow too comfortable with what you write (possibly because of a lack of ‘life-experiences’), and become afraid to venture further and beyond all that?

  2. Anninhell,

    The voice applies to your narrative sections. Your books will never get stale as long as your characters are unique and three-dimensional. I use dozens of characters per book and they all act differently. They keep each book fresh. Excellent question though.

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