Author, Voice, Writing

Author, author, speak to me!

I cried last night … twice. Reading the final chapters of Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, did me in. The story was just that real to me. Throughout the book I experienced love and heartbreak, beauty and horror, fear and exultation because Hosseini is an excellent writer. And yet, not everyone agrees with me.

Engrossed reader.Have you ever experienced the shock of looking at the reviews of a book you loved and seeing that some readers hated it? Although more than 350,000 readers rated Hosseini’s book four or five stars at Goodreads, a shocking number gave it only one. Considering that the background of this novel is war-torn Afghanistan, I suppose some of those low ratings could be politically motivated. But what about the others?

I’ve loved all three of Hosseini’s novels. That’s not because I love reading stories set in Afghanistan or stories about the effects of war on people’s lives. So why is he one of my favorite authors? Why is Anne Tyler? Or Stephen King? Or Maeve Binchy?

Voice. It’s the author’s voice.

Often I open a novel that either a professional reviewer or a friend has assured me I’ll love, and I simply can’t read it. It’s not the subject, not the setting, not the quality of the writing that fails to excite me—it’s the author’s voice. That voice is not one I’m attuned to, which is neither my fault nor the author’s. And certainly, that alone is no cause for me to say it’s a terrible book.

The voices of the writers I prefer don’t all sound the same. I study them, copying whole pages by hand trying to understand what makes them sing for me. Word choice, syntax, tone, rhythm, etc. are all elements of writing style, but I think writers can have similar styles and yet the voice is different. There’s something more that defines voice. It’s an element lying below all the rest. Something that breathes life into the words. Something, I think, that can’t be learned.

Naturally, I wonder about my own writer’s voice. It’s still trying to struggle out of its chrysalis. I hope it’s on its way to being pure and honest and alive. Because then, someday, readers will count my voice among their favorites.

Linda

16 thoughts on “Author, author, speak to me!”

  1. Very interesting post, Linda. As writers, isn’t it grand to be able to move people? To take them somewhere, whether it be to tears or fear or to smile? I would simply say that there is no pleasing everyone.
    About your writer’s voice, I can say that it has pleased me twice. I have found myself sailing along over smooth waters. Your stories have taken me places and nothing has tripped me up – not language, word-choice or neglected sentences. Nothing. They just sing. That’s why I hope you’ll keep writing.

    Your buddy from down the freeway,
    -Jimmy

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    1. Oh, Jimmy, you have a way with words! 🙂 Thank you for letting me know I’ve got enough voice now to touch readers, but I’m not satisfied. I’m still holding back something—I just need to figure out what. Don’t worry, I’ll keep writing, at least until I break through that barrier.

      And take your own advice, sir. 😉

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  2. If it’s any consolation, I think you have a very strong, beautiful voice that sings to me, personally. And trust me, there aren’t a lot out there that do. I think it’s also very difficult to see your own voice, change it, make it grow, etc. It’s all a product of who you are and constant writing, I think.

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    1. Thank you, Michelle. That means a lot to me. 🙂

      You’re probably right that it’s hard to see your own voice. And it does refine with use. But I can feel something there I’ve not set free yet, so I’m not trying to change my voice, I’m just trying to get out of its way.

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  3. In this particular case, I don’t think it’s the writing as much as the subject matter. Some people don’t like to read about such heavy realities. The book was hard to read because of the circumstances of the characters. I went back and looked, and when I read it three years ago, I gave it four stars. It’s a book that sticks with you, for sure.

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    1. Welcome, Darlene, and thank you for commenting.

      It’s true, not everyone likes to read books about such heavy topics. But the subject of his novel is clearly described, so why would anyone read the book and then give it 1 star because it was too depressing?

      To be honest, I’d never give a book 1 star because I’d never rate a book I hadn’t fully read, and if it was 1-star bad, I wouldn’t waste the time to finish it.

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