You know on The Voice, singers have only 90 seconds to wow Adam Levine and get him to turn that chair?
Well, it’s the same with writing. You have about 90 seconds on page one to wow an agent/publisher/mentor/reader and get them to turn their attention to your manuscript.
I learnt this in Pitch Wars (and a few other forms of rejection)
In Pitch Wars, like The Voice, you get an opportunity to pitch to four mentors who will help you hone your craft, should you get through. Your 90 second song is a 250 word query and first chapter.
So it’s not your clever plot that is going to get those mentors (or agent/publisher/reader) to turn their virtual chair. Neither is it your action scene. It’s also not the twist in the tail, nor the pacing, nor the character arc. It is none of that stuff because that stuff is not on PAGE ONE.
What is on page one is your voice. If you have a unique voice, readers are going to pay attention and turn enough pages to get to all those clever bits and fall in love with your story.
But first you have to have that voice.
John Green’s voice in Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns is outstanding. If you haven’t read Matt Haig’s books yet , his voice on Twitter will tell you what you need to know. Bill Bryson captures the ultimate funny, congenial voice of the “I Narrator” in his work. Have you read Catherine Alliott? Another great voice. There are bloggers who are masters at letting their voice shine through. Cindy Alfino is an example of one I follow who does that. You read her work and you feel like she is talking directly to you. Which writer has a voice that connects with you?
That author’s voice is her/his own unique style of writing. And you also have your own unique energy, style, tone and vibe that comes across via your words.
The problem is that sometimes we squish out that voice. And we don’t mean to, often we are just trying too hard. Voice is something we can’t force or contrive, so when we try too hard, we crush it.
I find that when I think too much about writing and don’t let it flow (even if it is sewage that flows) my voice is hollow, empty and the writing is a bore.
It’s similar to when I took drama class and I was cast in the role of the third witch from Macbeth.
“Harpier cries, tis time tis time” was my opening line. (What is a harpier anyway?)
At home, in front of my dressing table mirror I could go full witch. Mean eyes, crinkly nose, cackley voice. On the stage, however, during rehearsal in front of my peers, trying hard to be cool AND a witch, I was awful.
The only way I could be the witch that lurked in my bedroom mirror was to forget about everything, about how I looked and what the mean girls thought, and let go.
And it is the same with authorial voice. Agonize over it, worry about what others think or how your words could be construed and your voice is gone.
There is time enough for editing after you have written a first draft. You can edit out adverbs and poor dialogue, but it’s very hard to edit in your unique voice. That story will be as dull as a boring witch if your voice is not in it.
So let go. Write.
Hopefully Adam will turn his chair. (Even if he doesn’t, pfft. The creative arts are very subjective. There is always Blake.)