Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Staying True To Your Voice

A guest post by mystery author Jennifer Stanley
(for photo and bio, see yesterday's post).

Jennifer's brand-new December, 2009 release is Stirring Up Strife: A Hope Street Mystery. Welcome to the Hope Street Church…where good folks study The Good Book, but everyone loves a good mystery. And what makes this book even more delicious is that it includes heavenly recipes!

Cooper Lee can repair a copy machine—but can she repair her life? That’s one of the many Big Questions that lead this newly single Richmond girl to Sunrise Bible Study at the Hope Street Church. Cooper hasn’t attended church in ages, but after getting dumped by her long-time boyfriend—and moving in with her family—she could use some new friends, and a new outlook on life. Happily, the members of the Bible group are anything but cookie-cutter, which suits Cooper just fine. There’s a blind folk artist, a playboy meteorologist, an investment banker with a sweet tooth, an ambitious realtor, and a cute shy web designer who just might be “the one” for Cooper. But the member of Hope Street Church who invited Cooper to join this motley crew—an office worker who got her wedding ring stuck in a copier—is something else altogether: She’s dead And her husband is suspected of murder! The Sunrise gang jumps into action, vowing to solve this unholy mess—with God’s guidance—and Cooper’s snooping…

Now here's Jennifer's post, and remember, if you leave a comment, you'll be entered into a drawing for a signed copy of Stirring Up Strife: A Hope Street Mystery!

Staying true to your voice. What does that even mean?

For me it means not writing to market trends. It means writing naturally, organically. For example, if you’ve formed your character’s behavior and mannerisms based on personal experience and then suddenly, inexplicably, your character begins speaking in a different voice, your readers will cock their heads at a funny angle and wonder what happened.

Often, aspiring writers submit queries to literary agents and are rejected on the grounds that the agent didn’t sense a clear voice or, even worse, felt the narrative voice rang false.

Why does this happen? I’m not one hundred percent certain, but I’d guess that this occurs when writers try to replicate a best-selling voice (aka a Patterson or an Evanovich voice) but it just doesn’t work. It also happens when writers chase market trends. When paranormal suspense is selling well, they try to force themselves to write about a werewolf detective, regardless of the fact that they have no real interest in werewolves at all!

So what’s a writer to do? The old cliché “write what you know,” is a wise cliché. By infusing your work with genuine experiences and your own colorful mannerisms, you develop a true voice – one as unique as your fingerprints or DNA strains.

Believe in your voice. It will give you the courage to write a book about church folks solving mysteries when the entire publishing world was in search of a werewolf detective series.

Good luck finding that beautifully individual voice!

For those who have found or are exploring an individual voice, what is your voice talking about these days? What advice do YOU have to offer fellow writers looking for their own individual voice?

Jennifer’s new release, Stirring Up Strife, is published by St. Martin’s Press and is available at your local bookstore or, Barnes & Noble, Borders. To contact the author please visit


Jacqueline Seewald said...


I couldn't agree with you more! We each have with in ourselves a unique and individual voice. It's important to express that in our writing. Better to write what is timeless than what is trendy.

All the best,

Jacqueline Seewald
THE INFERNO COLLECTION, Five Star hardcover, Wheeler large print

jbstanley said...

Love the titles of your books, Jacqueline. I'm opening a new window to check them out!

Anonymous said...

Really intersting blog about voice. My Merrivale characters are certainly true their individual ethics in their lives and relationships to each other - I couldn't agree more.
Best always,

Maryannwrites said...

Very good advice about finding and using your voice. "Write what you know" isn't about things, it is about how we react to things. It took me a while to figure that out, but then I tend to learn my lessons slowly. LOL

Also appreciate that you pointed out the futility of chasing what is hot in the marketplace. That only works if you are passionate about what is hot today.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks Jacqueline, Jackie, and Maryann for your comments! I really liked what you said, Maryann, about: "Write what you know" isn't about things, it is about how we react to things.

I find it really interesting to read fiction written by people from very different cultures than my own, because often their characters react to events in their lives differently from the way I expect and the way my characters react.

Robin Cain said...

Writers that write only to serve a trend are doing themselves a great injustice. A writer must allow what comes out of their heart and soul to fall upon the page or they will never satisfy their muse or their needs. Each "voice" must be listened to or they will haunt you. Good post!

Beth Groundwater said...

I posting this for Jenny Hanahan, who had trouble posting here, so she posted to Facebook instead:

"Looking forward to reading...especially since I noticed it has "an ambitious realtor" in it. ;)

Jenny Hanahan
Mystery Most Cozy Moderator (on FB and Yahoo)"

(Jennifer, if you draw Jenny's name for the prize, I can give you contact info for her.)

Sean Patrick Little said...

I think that having a disctinctive prose voice is one of the more important tools a writer can use. But, there is something to be said for versatility in prose, as well. As long as you're not writing over your own head and trying to be someone you're not, being able to adjust the voice you use is a great tool as well.

Heather Webber said...

Great advice, JB. Defining voice is tricky because there's not just the author's voice but the character voices as well. My only advice is to listen carefully. :)

jbstanley said...

Jenny - LOL - I think realtors need to be especially ambitious in today's market! At one point, the character considers putting business cards in the offertory plate!

Robin, I agree about being haunted by a voice that is pent up inside. That is such a brilliant way to word that feeling.

Beth, thanks so much for having me! It was an honor to be posted here.

Helen Kiker said...

I do think that readers can tell if a book was written just to catch the current trend rather than doing their own thing. Just hope the publishers can tell as well.

I love the book cover - the church seems so welcoming but there are very threatening clouds lurking in the background.


Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comments, Robin, Jenny, Sean, Heather, and Helen! Both Robin and Heather brought up the need for the author to "listen" to the voice in his or her head, be it the muse or the characters talking. That is sooo true. I pay very careful attention to the voices in MY head.:)

What does everyone thing of Sean's advice to "adjust the voice you use" for versatility?

My science fiction novella, The Epsilon Eridani Alternative, was recently released with what I hope is a different voice from the one I use in my mystery fiction. I'm waiting to hear from readers of both to see what they think. I find it very hard to evaluate my own voice, and I rely on others to do it for me. People tell me I have a distinctive voice, but I sure can't tell!

And I agree with Helen that the book cover is beautiful!

tmaddy said...

Looks like I have found another author to add to my list! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, you are right on target about finding your own voice. For me, writing what I know helped propel me through the first draft of my first cozy. Being in my comfort zone has made all the difference. Your book sounds intriguing, and I love the cover art!

Jenny Hanahan said...

Beth, thank you for posting for me. :) Not sure why I couldn't see the word verification last time.

Jennifer LOL @ your comment on character considering putting business card in offertory plate...somehow I could see my broker approving. lol

Jenny Hanahan
Mystery Most Cozy

LadyPI said...

Great post! As a reader, it is pretty easy to tell if the author (or the publisher) is trying to follow a popular trend.

I think the idea of being true to yourself can apply to every creative person - and maybe even to everyone.

Unknown said...

How nice to see a book that doesn't include werewolves, vampires or ghosts. Your characters sound much more interesting!

boots9k at

Beth Groundwater said...

Many thanks to all of you who stopped by to comment on Jennifer Stanley's post and the warm welcome you gave her.