Thursday, March 8, 2018

Finding Your Voice by Tanya Agler

When I’m driving my youngest children to school or wherever, I like to play the standards of yesteryear. I’m introducing Cupcake and Chunk to the silky voices of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Doris Day, and I love throwing in some Satchmo for good measure. There’s nothing like Louis Armstrong’s trumpet playing to brighten up my day. Decades later, their voices are each distinct and unique, and I can tell immediately whether Bing is crooning, Frank is extolling the virtues of New York, or Doris is serenading the troops who were taking a “Sentimental Journey.” As I was listening to “Swingin’ on a Star” the other day, I started to think how writers develop their own voices, something unique that differentiates their styles from others. 

Theme. Even today, the name Doris Day often brings up two famous songs of the twentieth century, “Que Sera Sera” and “Sentimental Journey.” Both are sung in a fashion to bring reminders of home to boys and men, who are searching for their way home. (“Que Sera Sera” was used effectively in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much and “Sentimental Journey” was a huge hit during World War II.) The theme of finding a way back to family is familiar in many novels. Coming home is also a recurring theme in my writing, and I try to use my voice to evoke images of home, from baked goods to holidays. When a writer is wondering how to establish his or her voice and his or her brand, recurring themes are often a great place to start.

Setting. Going into detail about the book’s setting can often make it seem as though the setting is an additional character in the book and help your voice stand out. Dynamic settings can add a dimension to a writer’s voice and keep the reader turning the page. The Alaskan wilderness or a Kentucky cave can lend a suspenseful air. The murmur of the waves on the shore can provide a backdrop for a women’s fiction novel or a reunion romance. All of these details are one more way a writer can strengthen his or her voice.

Dialogue. Ensuring your characters sound like themselves and not like other characters can help your writing. I’ve heard other singers perform “It’s a Wonderful World,” but when Louis Armstrong sings it, I stop what I’m doing and listen. It’s a beautiful song and his inflection and slightly scratchy voice bring out the best in the lyrics and melody. So too, your teenager should sound like a teenager and not like your heroine’s grandmother. By infusing your characters with attitude and giving them their voice, you also grow your voice.

In a way, some songs are sheer poetry. Some writers have melodious voices and their prose reads like poetry. Others take you on a wild roller coaster of a ride. The best part is there’s room for all our voices out there. Think about your favorite song and why the singer who vocalized the lyrics made that tune something special. Then think about your writing. There’s something special in your words as well, and your voice helps shape their meaning.

What’s your favorite song or genre of music? Do you see any of the themes in those reflected in your writing?

Tanya Agler lives in an Atlanta suburb with her husband, four children, a Basset Hound, and a rabbit. She loved the University of Georgia so much she stayed there for seven years, ultimately earning her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and a Juris Doctor degree but trading those in for blue jeans and a laptop. A write-at-home mom, Tanya is a member of RWA and is the current President of Georgia Romance writers. A 2017 Unpublished Contemporary Category Maggie winner and Unpublished Contemporary Gateway to the Best winner, she is represented by Dawn Dowdle of the Blue Ridge Literary Agency.

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19 comments:

  1. Tanya, I LOVE this post! Oh, my gosh - everything you said resonates.

    I'm an old movie classics buff and I adore all the old songs, too. Even my Pinterest boards ooze nostalgia and vintage. :-) As I write, I channel those old "feel good" memories into my stories and apply them to today's themes and dynamics.

    Great examples. Way to make us think about voice!

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    1. Cynthia, Great to hear from you. I too love classic movies, especially Cary Grant. I'll have to check out your Pinterest page.

      Thank you for your kind words.

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  2. Tanya, you had me at your pets - a basset hound and a rabbit! Love both of them! I love Louis Armstrong but love Sam Cooke even more for R&B I think. The music genres I love are pretty wide ranging; everything from classic rock and roll to movie scores and ballads. I love to make playlists for my WIPs too. And I’m discovering my story themes are second chances, forgiveness and who are our family. Thank you for sharing these great points!

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    1. Hi, Laurie! Yes, both of my pets are totally lovable. Gandalf is more independent, and Vera is everyone's friend.

      Louis Armstrong and Sam Cooke are both great for those afternoons where music can add a mellow tone. The wonderful thing about music is there are so many great songs to fit any mood and occasion, a lot like books!

      Themes are so important in books, and I'm glad you're delving deep into how those themes can play into your voice and writing. Thanks for dropping by!

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  3. Tanya, insightful post! Recently, I’ve been singing “Climb Every Mountain.” YES! Besides my love of hiking in the mountains, my stories have the theme of strength when facing challenges. Interesting way to look at my author voice. Thank you!

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    1. Sherida, So good to hear from you. The Sound of Music is one of my favorite musicals. Somehow singing "I Have Confidence" is one of those songs that always gives me an extra boost. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  4. I love this post! And I love your taste in music. My kids and I love listening to Louis Armstrong sing It's a Wonderful World. My daughter, who is twenty, loves Frank Sinatra. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hi, Gail! My oldest daughter is the same age as yours. One of my fondest memories of my oldest son (who is a teenager) revolves around him singing "New York, New York" in preschool with the rest of his class. I love music, and I'm glad you and your kids listen to music together.

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  5. Wonderful post, Tanya! My Daddy loved Louie Armstrong's "It's a Wonderful World" so not only do I think it's a sweet song, but now when I hear it, I have precious memories of my Daddy.
    One of my most favorite hymns is "Trust and Obey" (which I enjoy playing on my piano---much to the dismay of my kitty who is *not* a music lover--the others don't mind the music). After reading your post, I've been thinking that a recurring theme in my stories is Trust. I didn't plan on using that theme, but it always seems my characters struggle with that. Thank you again, and happy writing!

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    1. Hi, CatMom! Music is one of the best ways to bridge generations. I have fond memories of attending concerts with my parents.

      Happy writing to you as well.

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  6. This was a great post, Tanya! I can just hear Louie Armstrong singing It's a Wonderful World. I've heard it said that each of our writer's voices are unique and we should strive for that uniqueness, however I never thought about themes to our writing as being part of our voice. What a lovely thought - and so right! It has me analyzing my own recurring themes to try to figure out if they're in my voice. Ok , that sounds kind of weird, but still very thought provoking. Thanks for making me think!

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    1. Cindy, one of the wonderful things about writers is how they smile and nod in the best way, totally understanding what you mean. To me, it's not weird at all to see if your themes reflect your voice and your brand. Glad I gave you something to think about.

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  7. Hi Tanya, I remember the first time somebody told me to find my voice. I wish I could've read your post years ago. Thanks!

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    1. Jackie, That's so sweet. Keep writing and keep editing. When you reread your work (especially if you put your finished first draft away for 2 to 6 weeks), I bet you'll see more of your voice than you realized.

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  8. Cindy, I loved this post. You touched on a subject I absolutely love - old songs and films.

    The thing that really resonated with me was Louis Armstrong and What a Wonderful World. I've heard numerous people sing that song, but none like Louis. I always consider that his song and it sounds wrong when someone else tries to sing it. Just like I sound wrong trying to write like someone else.

    You're a genius! Provided us with the best explanation I've ever heard. Thanks!

    By the way, I'm a huge Doris Day fan.

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    1. Terri, thank you for having me for a day. I, too, love classic movies and music is a huge influence in my life. Tanya.

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  9. Great post, Tanya! Thanks for the tips on finding your voice. And add me to those who've expressed an affinity for old music and movies - and even old television shows.

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  10. Oh my goodness, I love this analogy! Music has the power to induce mood and atmosphere, just like the words we write.

    I love all sorts of music, but I listen to classical music a lot when I'm driving through the countryside into town. Either that, or praise songs. I've even been known to listen to monks sing Gregorian chants, lol. I know, it's weird. But aren't we all?

    Thanks for your enlightening post, Tanya!

    ~ Yvonne

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  11. Tanya, we listen to the same music. I’m stuck in the 40s, which is perfect because I set a lot of my books in WWII. I love the Big Band sound and all of the songs of that era and singers you mention. Marilyn Baron

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