Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Too Much Authorial Voice?


At the Miami SCBWI conference, I heard a lot of first page critiques--where the first pages of manuscripts are read aloud and then reviewed by agents and/or editors. A consistent theme in the comments had to do with too much of the author’s voice distracting from the stories.


An author’s voice is usually the writer’s natural tone, rhythm, and choice of words. To put it more poetically--a reflection of the writer’s soul. An author’s voice is unique to each person, which is why the same story can be told in different ways by different people. In comparison, a character’s voice is crafted by the writer to fit a certain character in a story.


When there is too much authorial voice, the reader can become distracted from the story and the emotional flow of it. This sometimes happens when the writer inserts too much set up or back-story instead of allowing this information to become apparent as the story unfolds. Or, the writer may be sharing information instead of allowing the characters to do this. Or, the author may have injected his or her own judgments or commentary or opinions.


To fix too much authorial voice, a writer can revise it into the voice of a character or characters. So, an author judgment or opinion such as “He looked like a total slob” would transform into a character’s dialogue or thoughts, such as “You look like a total slob,” or “She thought he looked like a total slob.” Apologies for the lame examples, but hopefully they make the point.


What do you think? Have you ever stumbled over too much authorial voice in your writing or something you were reading?

54 comments:

  1. Too much voice. Wow, this is something I've never heard of and have never considered. I hope I haven't done this. I don't think I have. Hmm, better take a look!

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    1. It never hurts to take another look, right, Nancy. Good luck. : )

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  2. I've never heard of too-much author's voice, but to me, what it sounds like, is when "telling" kicks in, rather than showing.

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    1. Yes, telling is another sign of the author's voice interfering, Joanne.

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  3. Authorial voice sounds like telling not showing to me. Also, giving too much away too fast is a major problem in many first pages. I could see where this topic would arise.

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    1. I was sort of surprised how much this came up, Emily. Very interesting.

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  4. This is an interesting post. I agree, it sounds more telling and not showing.

    When I look back at my first drafts from years ago...that authorial voice was there.

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    1. Ah, yes, Loree, first drafts are prone to an abundance of authorial voice. At least my first drafts are vulnerable to this.

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  5. I'm not sure if this is exactly the same, but my daughter was very excited a few years ago over a series of books, and was dying for me to read one of them. I got maybe a chapter or two into it, and could go no further. For me, what killed it was the author's need to stick a pun or witticism of some kind into every other line. It wore me out, quite honestly. And I think I just realized what it is I don't like about the fabled 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.'

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    1. I haven't read Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, JeffO, but an author inserting puns and his or her wit sounds like an example of an author's voice messing with the story. Good example.

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  6. I hope my voice in my stories are submerged!!! I rely on others to tell me!!

    Thanks for a most interesting post! Take care
    x

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    1. Submerged is the perfect word, Old Kitty! Thanks! : )

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  7. Good point, Cynthia. Sounds like a really great conference. Sometimes it takes me a while to find the right "voice" for a story.

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  8. Ah, voice is ever so tricky in all it's variations, isn't it? And yes, it was a great conference. : )

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  9. It sounds like something similar to show vs. tell as well. I think if you really consider how you say things, this can be mostly avoided.

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    1. I agree, Lisa. As long as the writer can pick out where the authorial voice gets in the way.

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  10. It takes a lot of work to stay firmly in the character's head. At least it does for me. Great advice.

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  11. This actually happened to me recently. I loved the premise of the book but the voice (it was 3rd POV close) was distracting and I couldn't connect to the character.

    I could be biased though since I tend to love 1st POV novels more.

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    1. I've had the same experience, Karen. I became too distracted and lost interest in the novel.

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  12. Good post. I'm guessing part of the fix is to get away from telling (assuming it's the author doing the telling) and let the characters show it (I'd probably use dialogue but I have to be careful there, too).

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    1. Thanks, Donna. And I think you're right--getting away from telling helps a lot.

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  13. I just started an eBook that is (by page15) the author telling about the people and their situation. It's an adult, historical fiction, but I keep wishing the author would step aside and let the characters reveal their own story.

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    1. I think you put it best: the author needs to step aside and let the characters reveal their own story.

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  14. I agree with Lisa, it does remind of me of show vs tell. It's hard to step aside, but I think your book will be stronger if you do.

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    1. Absolutely, Patti. No one ever said writing is easy, right? : )

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  15. yes, this is an issue I'm dealing with right now. My character has a distinct voice that's not mine. I have to keep remembering that and make sure it stays consistent throughout the WIP.

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    1. Ah yes, Lynda, keeping a character's voice consistent can be tough. I often read for just that character when I'm wrestling with this.

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  16. Some wise writer said noted that the author should be invisible in the telling of the tale. I'm in the middle of some edits now and it's a little tricky as I'm working through the pov's of three characters. I'm also having to simplify the language, even though I thought I'd done that already, so boy do I know all about voice and how it can interrupt the flow of the story I'm trying to tell. Interesting stuff,Cynthia.

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    1. What wonderful wisdom--the author as invisible. And it does sound like you're up to your eyebrows in voices, J.L. Good luck with those edits.

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  17. Lame examples do get the point across!

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  18. I know about this issue. Recently I read a book that did a lot of telling instead of showing and it seemed to me it was mostly the author speaking, rather than the characters. Made for a dull story.

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    1. I have a hard time getting through stories where the author takes over, Bish. Dull is the word.

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  19. I don't think I've noticed it too much, but that might be because I read a lot of books in first person. Maybe it's easier to avoid it in that pov.

    Geez, now I'm going to be super paranoid of my writing. :)

    Great post!

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    1. Thanks, Stina. I'm sure you'll pick up any examples of too much author voice without too much trouble.

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  20. I agree with Stina--I think this problem often shows up when we write in 3rd person.
    This is a great post, Cynthia. It's a great reminder to keep ourselves out of the story and to let the characters tell their tale in their own words.

    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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    1. Thanks, Nutschell. I know I need to be reminded now and again to stay out of my stories. ; )

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  21. I also came across the author and character voices in Jill Corcoran's breakout session. It was enlightening.

    I end up cutting many things that come from myself rather than from my characters. Just last night, while I was editing, I looked at a passage and thought, "Hey, that's entirely me, not the character speaking."

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  22. Me, too, Medeia. My first drafts often have snippets of my voice instead of the voices of the characters. Revising is magical.

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  23. Yes, too much authorial voice bothers me. When I don't notice that there is even a writer involved--that's when I get lost in a story.

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    1. True for me, too, Lydia. "Lost in a story" is the perfect way to phrase it.

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  24. You make some great points about authorial voice, Cynthia. A great read comes across as being totally realistic.
    To assist in self editing, have you tried reading your story out loud? I find this helps me to catch many mistakes that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.
    I've been reading your posts for a while and very much enjoy what you have to say. Because of that, our blog has nominated you for an award. Click on the link to follow. http://rt19writers.blogspot.com/
    Keep up the good work.

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  25. Thank you Dave and the crew at Rt. 19 Writers! And yes, I read my stories out loud as part of the last stages of my revision process. Like you, I always catch mistakes when I do this. It's sort of amazing. Thanks again and happy writing.

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  26. This is a great subject! People worry about voice so much, but rarely stop to think if they are putting in too much authorial voice. Great post!

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  27. It's funny -- I agree, yet I think author voice is becoming MORE present in newer third-person books. The Penderwicks is one example. I like it if skillfully used (telling what should be shown, for example, won't work). I don't think we'll get back to "dear reader," but authorial voice, yes indeed.

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  28. Great point, Marcia. Perhaps it comes down to how much authorial voice is used, and (as always) how well it is executed.

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  29. Great points, Cynthia! I want to read without realizing I'm reading, to immerse myself in the characters and the world, and I've had to put away books with too much of the author's voice.

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    1. Ah, I agree, Adrienne. "Read without realizing I'm reading"--that's the perfect way to put a good reading experience.

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  30. I have always thought that there never could be enough voice! Interesting perspective!!! And it does make sense that there could be too much though!

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    1. Voice can be so tricky. Too much author voice is all about interrupting and distracting from the story, though, which is never fun, right? : )

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  31. I don't think I've ever been put off by too much authorial voice, but there are definitely some books in which I just don't like the voice and that's a real turn-off.

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    1. Interesting, Susan. I know what you mean about not liking the voice or voices in a novel. If it's a first person novel and I'm not taken in by that character's voice, I probably won't keep reading.

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