Monday, February 25, 2008

Voice and a great read

I've been thinking on the same lines as Michelle Styles today. That's because we've both been discussing that elusive thing called 'voice' with an unpublished writer over on the eHarlequin forums. This lady - Melissa - was avoiding reading any other romance books because she was afraid that they would interfere with the development of her personal style, her writer's voice.

I didn't agree - and neither did Michelle. I don't think that reading affects your personal voice - unless you start copying the authors you read and then you just turn into a pale imitation of them. But I always recommend that you should read lots of books by different authors - that will show you that there isn't any one way to write but as many different ways as there are different authors. And each one of those authors will have the readers who love her work.

When I first started out writing romance, I would read lots of authors I admired and I'd think Maybe I should write like that - and then Oh I can't write like that!- and then the doubts would come in to make me think I can't write! But when I told myself that I couldn't write like that - and I shouldn't write like that - I should write like me and tell the story the way I wanted to - that was when I had my first book accepted.

I was thinking about this over the weekend as I got lost in a wonderful book. It was my reward for reading some of the RITA entires I've been sent to judge. There's a real variety of them and some of them, frankly, are not my sort of read at all. This is not to say that they are bad books, but I'm reading them with my critic's hat on - the one that got me my degrees - not as a reader reading for enjoyment.

But my reward book, I read that with real delight. I enjoyed it from start to finish. And as I read it I was thinking that this was one of those books that in the past would have had me sitting with my head in my hands, declaring that I could never write like that!

The book was one of the 3 titles that are the prizes for the Here Come the Grooms Contest. It was Liz Fielding's book - her 50th M&B title - The Bride's Baby. And it's a great read. The characters are appealing, believeable, sympathetic. The hero is strong as a hero should be but he's also wounded and vulnerable and throwing up a defensive shield to ward off all comers. So is the heroine - for her own personal reasons. And because you believe in those reasons, then the conflict is one that tugs on the heartstrings and then gives them an extra twist for good measure.

And because it's a Liz Fielding book, the writing is wonderful too - clear, elegant, easy to read - the sort of writing that reminds me of a quote by Enrique Jardiel Poncela who said:

When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.

The other thing that this book had me thinking about is the way that when ill-informed critics declare that Harlequin Mills & Boon romances are 'all they same' they really are talking through their hats- or perhaps out of somewhere much less polite!

At the end of January, I wrote about the other book that is a prize in this contest - Anne McAllister's One-Night Love Child, another great read and I discussed that along with Michelle Reid's May release The Markonos Bride. Two fabulous books that demonstrate just how different each author can make a story, while still writing within the defined parameters of the 55,000 word category romance. Each one has a very clearly defined voice, unique to their individual authors - as The Bride's Baby is unique to Liz Fielding. Each one of them takes the 'formula' - the skeleton of a romance - man meets woman, there is a conflict between them, as they work to resolve that conflict they fall in love and can then move on to a happy ending - and crafts it in their own individual way to produce a gem of the genre - and each is totally unlike the other.

I enjoyed reading each one of them and admired the way they were crafted. Each one of them made me wish I'd written it, but at the same time acknowledge that I never would - and I never should. Because that's not my voice. And if was enjoying reading three such different styles and voices, then it was because they were all different that I got the best enjoyment out of them. If they'd all been - as those critics claim - exactly the same - then I doubt if I would have read all three - and certainly not with the same enjoyment.
So although I would have been proud to have written any one of those books - I'm also proud of the fact that I didn't. I'm proud of the fact that I write like me and my brilliant author friends write like them. I'm proud of the way that this genre produces so many wonderful voices who create so many wonderful stories - ones that are not at all 'just the same'.
So if you're a writer remember that it's variety that's the spice of life. That Harlequin Mills & Boon already has a Liz Fielding, an Anne McAllister, and a Michelle Reid, they have a Kate Walker too! They don't want another one. They don't want a pale copy of an original - they want an original - an original you.
I'm still advising would-be published authors to read - read as many different authors as possible, to learn the many different ways that the same basic romance theme can be written. Learn how the other authors do things, how they tackle problems, create empathy . . . Learn, but don't copy. Learn the sort of stories that speak to your heart, and most importantly to your witer's heart. Learn, get inspiration - and then go away and think of Frank Sinatra and do it your way.
I still wish I could have written any one of these great books, but I'm so glad I didn't because if I had then I wouldn't have had the pleasure of reading all of them. I was able to enjoy them so much because I wasn't wondering if I could have done it better - instead I was able to read them and enjoy them as they were - - and to see how these authors did it - which was not the way I would have done.
Thank you Liz, and Anne, and Michelle - reading your books inspired me, making me want to keep giving that same enjoyment to readers through my books too.
As I said, two of these books are prizes for the Here Come the Grooms contest. If you haven't entered yet then get your entry in - these are really great books to win. And if you don't win, but have to buy your copies, well, for my money you're still a winner because you'll be reading some of the best of what romance has to offer.

1 comment:

Jan Jones said...

Very thought-provoking post, Kate. Thank you.


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