Who do you think you are? Finding your voice as a writer

At some point in their journey a writer needs to find his or her voice. By this I mean what are you going to be known for? “Voice” is that combination of style, genre and “je ne sais quoi” that elevates a story to the next level and puts a writer into their “zone”. I think there are plenty of writers who never find it—they try to emulate others or force themselves into molds—but when you do find it, it’s like the G spot—you know it.

I always wanted to be a romance writer. When people ask me what I write I’m still somewhat embarrassed about it, because let’s face it, a lot of people are book snobs. And saying I write gay romance is even more challenging. But back to my point; I never cared about literary awards or contests or writing the Great Canadian novel. I’m happy writing happy stories about people falling in love. Even if I eventually move into other genres, romance will always be part of my “voice”. And yet, the first time I tried my hand at a writing career (writing traditional m/f romance) the responses I got were that they weren’t unique enough. I still laugh at this because every romance publisher says they want “unique” but that’s rarely reflected on the shelves. Regardless, when I look back now on these early works I can see something was missing from them. I hadn’t found my “voice”, that spot where I belonged. I think in my case, the right genre didn’t exist yet.

When I wrote my first novella for Dreamspinner I had an inkling that I had at last found my niche, or maybe it had found me, because the words flowed so naturally. When I wrote my second, I knew I was home. After a twelve year hiatus from writing, I felt a level of new creativity that I had never felt before. I began to eat, sleep and breathe my characters.

How can you find your “voice”? Read, read, read. I believe you have to be a reader to be a good writer. I don’t know how else a writer can develop their own style and place in a genre. Only by reading can you figure out where you fit, what you want to contribute, what you want to change. You also have to be patient and let your “voice” emerge; I learned this the hard way on the novel I just completed (out later this year) by trying to force it into being something it was not. And when I forced it, the feedback I got was that it didn’t work. Quirky, flirtatious dialog is my thing—my “voice”—and that didn’t work with the serious mystery angle I was going for. Once I stopped suppressing that, everything came together.

You also need to keep writing. Look for patterns in your writing, re-occurring themes or styles. Are there passages in your story that jump out, while others seem to fade into the background. Are your thoughts flowing or do you have to force them onto the page? This could be your subconscious showing you your true “voice”. Develop a mission statement for yourself, or a summary of what readers can expect from you (like the one I’ve done below) and review it periodically to see if what you’re writing is living up to those ideals. If you don’t know who you are as a writer, it will show in your work.

After three years of reading and writing in my genre I think I have a good idea of who I am and where I want to be. While the tone of my writing may change from light and playful to sad and angsty depending on my mood, there are some universal elements.

So who is Chris Scully?

Style: My writing style is sparse, with minimal exposition and an emphasis on showing character through actions, dialog etc. and not through a lot of backstory. I’m big on showing, not telling. Point of view can vary but I tend to favor first-person because it makes for a more intimate story.

Characters: ordinary, everyday “Joes”—no millionaires, models, guys with 6 packs; generally older (30+) because I’m tired of all these young men who have it together and generally act like they’re a decade older than they are routinely popping up in stories (not like any of the twenty-somethings I know). Sarcastic characters feature prominently.

Subject matter: No dark and heavy subjects like rape, incest, hate crimes etc. Even if there is (as in the novel I’m currently writing) it’s given a lighter treatment, usually occurring way in the background and is not the focus of the story. There are plenty of other writers who do angst far better than me so I’ll leave them to it.

Plot: I gravitate more to “slices of life”, character driven stories, but I have also been working on trying to incorporate more plot. I hope to eventually do both. My stories are reality-based with no fantasy elements.

Heat level: working my way up the heat ladder, but generally sex is not the focus for me as a writer. I write romance, not erotica. It’s not because I have a problem writing sex scenes, it’s because so much of so-called gay “romance” is focused on the sex that I don’t want to be the same, even though that seems to be what sells. Personally I find it so overdone now that I’m getting bored with it. It’s like porn—five minutes in and they’re already f—ing. Lots of other hot stuff to do, people!

Endings: Always a happily ever after (or a happy for now). I generally leave endings a bit open, which I know can frustrate people, but it’s always an implied happy ending.

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