We've all heard it. Your writing has to have a compelling voice. But what, exactly, is that? It's a voice both unique and familiar at the same time. Something readers can identify with, and yet haven't quite heard before. A voice that's easy to read, but also uses the language beautifully and differently. And every other conflicting statement possible. Can it get more confusing? Let's face it, trying to pin down voice is like trying to lasso a horsefly.
Even once you supposedly find that voice, some people still won't like it. Even on Relax, I'm a Ninja I've had an agent tell me she didn't connect with the "voice" of Tosh. I've gotten a lot of crits, but those are the ones that hurt the most for me. At that point, I turn into a rabid dire bear bent on protecting my fuzzy young. You said WHAT about my precious Tosh? *Claws come out.*
But then someone shoots me with a tranq and I remember that voice is one of the most subjective parts of writing. It's okay if not everyone likes my voice—most have and that means I'm on the right track. If several people had brought it up, then it would be time to reconsider what I'd written. Which has also happened to me. Sometimes voice can be a major crutch to a book.
Take my second book (the zombie book)—several people told me they couldn't identify with my MC or the love interest. In fact, one girl said the only character she liked was one of the supporting cast. Um, ouch. There were several things wrong with that book, but looking back one of them was voice. With that hindsight, I pointed out several things I did wrong when I wrote that voice:
1. It was a tad too "gruesome" for first person. People were more grossed out by Linea's POV than pulled in by it. Third would have provided some healthy separation.
2. My MC tended to ramble and be excessively rude and apathetic.
3. She had NO motivation, which made many people say "Why is she even doing that?"
4. It wasn't "authentic." The book managed to get to one agent, and she said just that. My MC didn't sound like a teenager. It was off. I was trying too hard.
And that just voice—the plot was a mess too. There were enough problems with that poor book that I've shelved it. It would take a complete rewrite to correct, and I know how I'd approach it next time. Maybe someday. The story is pretty cool.
I took a lot away from that experience though. Getting reamed on voice helped me change and get closer to pinning down my true style. And once I found that, I was able to improve in all areas of writing, from mechanics to plotting. I finally felt confident that I had hogtied my personal voice. Sometimes it gets loose, but I have great people to help me wrangle it in again. So keep trying to lasso that horsefly. It gets easier the more you practice.