Finding our author voice

For those who love writing and reading, the discussion about author voice and that feeling we experience when we’re fully immersed in a character voice in a new novel we’re reading is endlessly fascinating.

Sadly, it also takes lots (and lots, and lots) of practice to develop.

This is why I was eager to sign up for a Master class dedicated to Voice and taught by literary agent Donald Maass.

This class was one of many offered by the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association. If you are a women’s fiction writer and do not yet belong to this organization, consider signing up.

The class was informative and fun, and challenged us by having us write pieces that would be workshopped among our peers and Maass.

The feedback received – and the feedback you provide to your fellow writers – is a highlight of the course. But so is the work put into carefully considering your voice, and how altering that voice can transform your entire story.

For one session, we examined various point of view (POV) choices. I selected a dual timeline story contemporary/historical I had written, which takes place in Italy’s mountainous Abruzzo region.

My contemporary character tells her story through 1st person immersive (close) POV. We were asked to redraft a segment in a different POV, and I selected the one most challenging for me – authorial POV.

This is a structure I love in my 19th century literature, but I had never really considered it for my stories. But during this exercise, I had so much fun adjusting and writing from this perspective, that I’ll most definitely attempt this in a future project.

If you’re interested, you can read my drafts below and judge for yourselves how shifting POVs changes the entire feel of your writing.

Here’s to writers honing our craft and strengthening our voice. It may be a long hike up, but there is so much to see (and learn) along the journey!

Abruzzo / Kimberly Sullivan

Original version – 1st person immersive/close

Looking back to when I bought this house, I realize that I was bamboozled by the weather. I should have known better. A fool and his money are easily parted.

It was the kind of day real estate agents would almost trade their eyeteeth for. The air was still crisp, but the sun shone warmly, laden with promise for the long, lovely days beckoning just around the corner. The snow still capped the mountain-tops, yet the grass was green and lush.

We approached a front yard and I could see that the wildflowers had begun to grow around the edges, forming sporadic beds of color against the imposing stone of the house.

Lost in my reveries, I forgot all about the agent beside me. She smiled as she switched off the engine. “Here we are. The lovely little cottage I told you about.”

“A drafty little money pit, to be sure,” said Tom from the backseat, a wide smile carefully plastered on his face as he spoke the words.

I started to regret having invited him along. Worried about understanding everything in Italian and even more terrified about not understanding the local dialect, I’d asked Tom to join me on my house hunting. Now I was ready to strangle him.

To be fair, Tom had been honest from the outset about his lack of enthusiasm for my plans to purchase property in Abruzzo. He made those views abundantly clear on each house tour. Since the agent didn’t understand a word of English, he masked his caustic comments with a ridiculous smile. The routine was becoming old.

With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps I should have heeded Tom’s warnings. Back then, however, I was in no mood to entertain his negative thoughts. I summarily ignored Tom’s comments, instead concentrating my full attention on the little cottage from the passenger window. I unlocked the door and stepped out, breathing in the invigorating mountain air.

Now I see it was all staged. The agent gave me just enough time to drink in the idyllic scene as she fumbled slowly for the keys in her purse. Timing was crucial. Standing before the old stone house, its cool grey exterior bathed in bright sunlight, I began to imagine it as my own. I envisioned my new life within those walls.

Rewritten version – Authorial POV

The towering peaks stood their silent guard. A biting spring breeze rustled through the long neglected lawn that surrounded the ancient stone cottage – setting its colorful wild flowers off on a lively waltz. Emerging from a long, harsh winter, the tiny outpost of Marsicano, high in the Apennine mountains, released a collective sigh of relief as the mercury crept up optimistically and golden sunlight cast its benediction upon the town.

So long abandoned, the grey stone cottage soaked in the long-awaited springtime sun and looked particularly fetching that day – an elderly grande Dame dressed in her Easter finery.

A battered, blue Fiat Panda pulled up and parked at the edge of the stone fence. The engine switched off, and silence reigned once again. In the front seats, two women spoke. A young man sat alone in the back, an artificial smile plastered across his face. A moment later, the woman in the passenger seat emerged alone from the car, breathing in the fresh mountain air in greedy gulps. Her hair whipped prettily in the breeze, her head swiveling to take in the jagged mountain peaks dusted with snow. She raised her face to the sky and allowed the sun to caress her skin.

Slowly, the woman lowered her head to take in the cottage, a glow immediately evident in her countenance. The sparkle in her eye grew more intense every moment her gaze lingered on the sun-drenched grey stones. No man on the receiving end of that gaze would ever misinterpret such a naked sense of longing. By the time a smile transformed her face, all was clear. The lonely stone cottage would not be empty for long.

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