By Mollie Hunt
A few days ago, the topic of the CWA Bi-weekly Zoom Chat* was “voice.” With sixteen published titles—twelve cozy mysteries, one standalone mystery, three sci-fantasies, a memoir, and a book of poetry—voice has been an important aspect of my work.
An author’s voice is like the nose-print of a cat—no two are exactly the same. My voice is what tells my reader, “I wrote this book. If you liked the last one, you may like this one as well.”
It takes time for a writer to find their voice. At first, we often imitate others, a learning device similar to art classes where students copy famous paintings. Or maybe we just plod ahead putting our great ideas into our own words. These early attempts are often peppered with colorless sentences, duplicate words, and a lot of he said-she said to mark conversation. As time goes by and we continue to write our stories, the words begin to flow. We are finding our voice.
Note: Voice seems especially important in this new world of AI. Human authors have a voice. The only voice AI content has is the one it’s been programmed with.
Voice is more than merely a pattern. Writing multiple series in multiple genres, I don’t want them to come out all sounding the same. This requires me to come up with variations in style. Points of view, use of language, and even grammar and punctuation can make a difference.
For instance, I am a fan of the Oxford comma and use it most religiously in my cozies, but for the sci-fantasies, I skip them, giving a cleaner flow to the paragraph. Curse words are a no-no in cozies, but in my memoir, I swear like a hippie. Within those differences, however, there are consistencies. Style is not the same as the subtle consistency that is my voice.
Here are some first lines from my books. Can you hear the voice?
“My name is Lynley Cannon, and I am the crazy cat lady, only I’m not crazy yet. I swear. Everything I say is true, though it may seem like the wildest fiction. It does to me, now that I look back, starting when Fluffs discovered the stone.” —Cats’ Eyes, the 1st Crazy Cat Lady Cozy Mystery
“Camelia Collins hesitated, the key halfway into the lock. What on Earth have I done? she wondered to herself. How many people my age pick up and move house, leaving their old life behind to try something completely different and new?” —Ghost Cat of Ocean Cove, the 1st Tenth Life Cozy Paranormal Mystery
“To Niva, the night felt more like August than the last day of October. The warm breeze played among the dry leaves, a sound like bamboo chimes, and the setting sun painted the east hills gold. One by one, stars bubbled to the surface of the darkening sky. If Niva hadn’t known it was only five p.m., the illusion would have been complete.” —Cat Autumn, from the Cat Seasons Tetralogy
If you look up Writers’ Voice on the internet, you will find all sorts of definitions. Most are basic and literal, citing a combination of vocabulary, tone, and syntax that makes the writing flow in a particular manner.
This, from an article in the New York Times, is closer to my own thinking:
“A writer’s voice is the way his or her personality comes through on the page, via everything from word choice and sentence structure to tone and punctuation.” —Katherine Schulten, Sep 12, 2019.
Still, I find both descriptions simplistic. For me, voice is something more. It is the sound of the story inside me, talking to me. It is the magic entity that whispers the tale, transforming inspiration into something that can be communicated. It is part of what guides me from word to word until there are seventy-thousand of them in a row. I would not be a writer without my voice.
*The CWA Bi-weekly Zoom Chat is a benefit for CWA members. For more information, email CWA Vice President Andrea Dorn at email@example.com.
Cat Writer Mollie Hunt is the award-winning author of two cozy series, the Crazy Cat Lady Mysteries, featuring a sixty-something cat shelter volunteer who finds more trouble than a cat in catnip, and the Tenth Life Paranormal Mysteries involving a ghost cat. Her Cat Seasons Sci-Fantasy Tetralogy presents extraordinary cats saving the world. She also pens a bit of cat poetry.
Mollie is a member of the Willamette Writers, Oregon Writers’ Colony, Sisters in Crime, the Cat Writers’ Association, and Northwest Independent Writers Association (NIWA). She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and a varying number of cats. Like her cat lady character, she is a grateful shelter volunteer.
You can find Mollie Hunt, Cat Writer on her blogsite: https://www.molliehuntcatwriter.com/