My twelve-year-old son was devastated. His local haunt – Game Station – had shut down. His local outlet for comics and Star Wars gear was gone, and replaced by a franchise. A vanilla brand homogenised across the world.
I liked it as well. Not because I was desperate for a Darth Vader Dad t-shirt, but because it was run by a local guy as a local business. He had an adventurous spirit and his customer service was first-class. He picked products that were unusual, that suited his tastes and were often things you wouldn’t usually find in the big stores. It was as if his little shop added a different voice to the cacophony of branded white noise in the shopping centre.
After that, we were looking at the list of movies to watch at the cinema. Almost everything on the advertising hoarding was Something-Or-Other 3 or Marvel Superhero Movie #341. More franchises. More vanilla stories that just repackage the old or are simply safe options because Movie Something-Or-Other 1 worked.
I’ve worked in PR and communications for 20 years, so I know the value of a brand. I also know the push in the corporate sector to keep everyone else out so your brand is the only thing people see.
But since I’ve been viewing the world through a writing lens, this whole push to brand and homogenise everything saddens me.
You see, what’s being lost here is an original voice. Something fresh, something different. When Hunger Games flies off the shelves, there is a push to find “the next Hunger Games”. When Fifty Shades of Grey slinks into customers’ handbags by the thousands, there is a drive to find the next chick-lit smash hit. There is a lot of comparison with others and that is often how a new author is identified and marketed. The Hunger Games was promoted as the new Harry Potter and then The Maze Runner was promoted as the new Hunger Games.
I get that. People need a touchpoint. Most people need an idea of what something is like in order to visualise what something new is. Our local library has some bookmarks that are popular. They say: “if you like Agatha Christie, then you’ll love …” before listing a dozen crime writers of a similar ilk.
But what of the view that publishers are looking for a unique voice?
Last week I was talking to an author who talked about her frustration in approaching publishers who are looking for a fresh voice. The message she was constantly getting was basically “we’re looking for something that’s a little bit more like Author X.”
It’s publishing with a franchise mentality and, as I’ve been writing, it’s led me to question my own voice as a fiction writer.
After talking with dozens of writers – published or not – it seems that the issue of finding your voice can be an issue for most. There is often a battle between writing what you want to write and what might sell. To write for your soul or for your publisher? To write for satisfaction or success?
These are questions for which I have no answer … yet. I know that I need to write, I’m driven to write, but I’m also adding my voice to the countless others that are already out there.
So what is my voice as a writer? I’ve read countless blog posts and advisory columns on finding my voice, and have read copious bullet points about passion, following what you read, mimicking your author heroes, taking risks or dreaming. I’d like to add my voice to this advice. I’ve boiled it down to two things: who I am and what inspires me.
- Who I am. I view my world through humour and a Christian lens; that should inform my writing. When I’m around a BBQ or a dinner table, I am a storyteller with a twist. When I’m problem solving, I’m a thinker. So my plots should contain these elements. I am a father and family man, so my characters should have care for others driving their decisions.
- What inspires me. I am inspired by clever thinking and language; that should inform my writing. I am inspired by creative difference; that should drive my ideas. I am inspired by people overcoming adversity, so my characters should be overcomers.
So these are now helping me understand not just what I write, but how I write it. And I’ve found it’s started to make my writing life easier as I write as me, not the next Ted Dekker, JK Rowling or <insert your favourite author here>.
So my voice is developing, not as my grammar improves or I slowly learn to stealthily hunt down adverbs (as you can see I’m still getting there), but as I understand the answers to these two questions.
So why is voice important? Voice is who we are and it is recognised by those people who read the work we do. Voice is important to me as a reader in the same way it is as a parent with a child on a playground. It is recognizable to me.
So what about you? What is your writing voice and how did you discover it?