The Essential Advantage You Need To Publish From Laura Oliver

This is inspired by notes from a writer’s conference. The speaker was Laura Oliver. She spoke about having a compelling voice, and that’s your essential advantage.

You’ll often hear agents and editors say they want a strong voice. What does that mean? Surely they don’t want you to shout at them, right?

A writer’s voice is personality revealed in syntax, vocabulary, rhythm, and cadence. It is a unique sensibility and a distinctive way of looking at the world, a uniqueness and authenticity. Your voice is your “self” in your writing, but it doesn’t come from you the writer. It comes from the character.

James Bell says, “The best fictional voice is an interplay between the characters and the author, and then between the author and his craft as he puts the words on the page.”

CHARACTER background and language filtered through the AUTHOR’S heart, and rendered with craft on the PAGE = VOICE.

When voice doesn’t match the subject, it’s very engaging! Example:

(I don’t know about you, but I totally expected that audition to be a woman from the initial sound.)

1) A letter about something you’ve longed for. This is a great way to figure out your own voice before you try and blend it with a character’s. Write like you would talking to someone.

2) Prompts – What do you know to be true? What do you suspect you’re wrong about? Read through what you’ve written. How do you sound when you’re sure, uncertain, uncomfortable?

3) Vary point of entry – listening, reflection, remembering, something you don’t know, interesting facts, start with 1st event or the last, an assertion, a conflict, start mid-discovery or mid-emergency, with a mystery etc. Your story doesn’t always have to go in chronological order.

4) Stories from the subconscious – write about a mistake, fear, or curiosity. Do it from your perspective. Do it from your character’s.

5) Try a different verb tense or switch between verb tenses mid story. “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff is an excellent example. Do you have lots of flashbacks in your story? Tell the current events in present tense and the past in past tense.

6) Point of view – an exercise in intimacy: 1st, 2nd, 3rd person or even switch up gender. Mix it up.


Voice tips:

*Learn to tell the emotional truth because truth resonates with readers.

*Start small, dense, specific, irreducible. Large generalizations sound preachy.

*Read! Read! Read!

*Use a thesaurus > find words that shade meaning

*Listen to how people speak – eavesdrop shamelessly! (Maybe carry a little notepad around with you to capture the best quotes?)

*Use your past to find voice.

*Write a page no one will ever see about what you cannot say.

*Once you’ve established voice, be sure it’s apparent in your cover letter and anything else you send to the agent.

*Read the voices you love before you write to help inspire. What you digest in front of your eyes will impact what your fingers create. The website compares your voice with those of others. And then before you write, reconnect with your voice again through a piece of yours you are proud of.


Questions, friends? Things you’re wondering about publishing? Let me know! I’m looking for topic suggestions. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll research it. It’s great to learn together. 🙂 Take care and keep writing!

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