Monday, August 22, 2011

Editor's Corner - You're Stifling My Voice

A few weeks ago, we introduced "Ask an Editor" for anyone who always wanted to know...

Well, one of our Managing Editors, Kathy Teel, was nice enough to let us know about a question that she often gets from authors - "Why are you trying to stifle my voice?"  We thought that this was a great topic for our first "Editor's Corner".

So, thank you Kathy for being a great guest poster for today!

You’re Stifling My Voice!

I had an author once who had a quirky style of writing. She liked to stick in asides, little informative comments about the characters, that were her way of connecting directly to the reader as an author. So, she’d write things like, “Fred saw her walking down the lane toward him.  Now, Fred was no idiot. Everyone who knew Fred constantly talked about how smart Fred was.  He was really smart, and being so smart, he wasn’t about to let her walk past him without taking the opportunity to speak to her, as any intelligent man would.”
I would edit that to something like this. “Fred considered himself an intelligent man, and when he saw her walking down the lane, he knew he couldn’t let her pass without speaking to her.”

My author would always object, “You’re stifling my Voice!”

Voice is a funny thing.  Authors, especially new authors, see it as the little bit of themselves that they are allowed to insert into their story. And even big time, best-selling authors get comments on their voice in national book reviews. It’s not surprising that other authors want to insert the piece of themselves that will get some recognition, as well.

The author’s voice is the way they phrase things, their unique way of seeing and describing the world that sets their stories apart from others. Believe me, no editor wants to stifle that. At Omnific we have voices that are cynical, romantic, rebellious, irreverent, epic, amusing, innocent and sophisticated, to name a few.  Editors love that sort of thing. We do have to read these books, so it’s nice if they’re enjoyable for us.

But voice can’t be inserted. Voice isn’t the little asides you stick in so you can talk directly to your reader.  In fact, doing that obliterates point of view and takes us out of the story.  It does violence to the characters, plot, and world, and that’s why we editors cut it so ruthlessly. If a story is a big cake, many new authors see voice as the icing, the one piece that’s added on so that it can be identified as theirs.   But it’s not.  Voice is the eggs, flour, milk, sugar and chocolate. Someone else’s cake might be the eggs, flour, milk and carrots, or strawberries.  It’s not something inserted, like writing in frosting, “This is a chocolate cake.” The reader has to get into it to discover the flavor for herself.

To be honest, new writers often confuse their voice with their writing, and a lot of their writing is raw and needs polish. All authors need to be edited, period, no exceptions.  And what we editors are often trying to do is to sift through what an author thinks is his voice to get to the real voice beneath. I hate to say it, but authors aren’t always the best judge of their own voice. Again, that’s why they need editors.

Editors do all they can to respect their author’s true voice, but there’s a lot of stuff in any manuscript that just has to go. In the end, authors have to trust that their editors have the best interests of their books at heart, and we’d never do anything to detract from them. We want your voice to come through.


  1. As a new author I can honestly say I never felt that my voice was being stifled at all. I had always felt that my editors were trying to make my words and my voice the best they could possibly be. Or maybe I was just lucky enough to have amazing editors :)

  2. We're really glad to know that, Patricia! That's what we're trying to do!


  3. A writer from one of my groups has responded to this article on her LiveJournal. Make sure to see what she has to say.

    She brings up some good points, but here's what I wrote in response on our writing group:

    I'm sorry I don't have Livejournal, so I couldn't comment on your article there.

    The problem is, you assumed that the author was originally trying to be funny. She wasn't. She was just using too many words. My revision actually encapsulated the effect she was hoping for--Fred's determination that he wasn't going to miss a chance to speak to the lady. Instead of letting Fred's actions and emotions speak for themselves, the author insisted on speaking directly to the reader, rather than let the story unfold itself.

    It causes all sorts of POV and pacing problems, as well as obscuring the author's actual intent. The only humor available there was the unintended kind, and that's not something I want my authors to go through.

  4. Wow - that was a really fascinating insight. I'd read recently that when you edit yourself you should take out any words that aren't absolutely necessary to the story. That struck me as a little harsh; I had assumed that the "extra" words that you throw in are what makes the story amusing or memorable. But as I'm editing my own work I'm starting to understand what that means, as well as what you're talking about. It's possible to be amusing or philosophical or profound without having to throw in 50 extra words to do it, although I suspect it takes quite a while to get good at it!