Monday, January 4, 2010

Authentic Voice

Do you ever read a book and think, "Oh, hell no."

It's like the voice is just so contrived? So... *searches for a compelling word to get across point*... stupid?

Okay, I'm kidding (kinda.)

It's just, I've been reading a ton of books lately as I wait to hear back from my agent about my revision, etc. And voice is huge for me. I can read a couple pages and instantly know whether I'm going to invest a week in the book. Of course, this gets my wife (and others, at times...) yelling stuff like, Snob! Just read it! This is so weird because I'm used to people yelling out, Bryan, Bryan, we adore thee. Come and let me give you $500! (or whatever.)


Voice is important.

But here's the question: is it possible to write an authentic male voice if you are a female? What about a male writing a female?

Two books I've read recently fell into the female writing as a male category. The first one I finished (begrudgingly... I bought it and felt obligated.) The second I read the first chapter and returned to the library.

When my wife asked WHY I was returning it, I showed her a bit of dialogue and made my grand point.

No Dude would ever say THIS! I pointed to the offending piece of dialogue, tapping the paper with my hand in case she didn't understand the horror of it all.

She was all, "I've heard a guy say that."

And of course I said, "No way."

And then she said, "YOU say that!"

And then we got divorced.

Okay, not really. But we did have to have a little Come to Jesus meeting in the Bliss household, which means that she walked away and I just assumed I was right.

You are probably thinking: That Bryan... he's soooo Awesome.

Or maybe: What WAS that bit of dialogue?

Without going into details (read: not being sued), I'll give you a little example of what I'm talking about.*

I walked into the living room. My sister was sitting on the floor getting thumb prints all over my new iPod.

"Girl, you best be getting your cheap 2-dollar nail job off my new iPod," I said, snapping my fingers two times in a circle. "And fix your hair."

Okay, so that's a bit overt. And I don't know if there is such a thing as a $2 nail job (or if it is cheap...)

But maybe you get the idea?

When I write dialogue, I always try to ask my wife whether I'm being too cute, whether my cleverness is superceding the voice in my book.

What do you do?

(As a short aside, I've always wanted to write a book with another writer similar to NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST. Except, I'd love to write the dialogue bits in the individual writer's voice instead of alternating chapters. Interesting?)

*This is not from an actual book.


  1. Voice is important, indeed. Your example of dialogue, while entertaining, may not be that far off of what some guys might say. What I mean is, most authors go by what they have heard being said, we have to be observant. If these particular authors went by something they literally heard, than can we question the validity of their writing?

    On the other hand, there's writing based on stereotypes. This may be what you saw. I do it all the time and when I look back on my four page thread of dialogue, I highlight and delete, because it is disingenuous. Then, I Ctrl+Alt+Delete my mind, by pressing my eyelids.

    So what are my points? Good question. I think what I am trying to say is that there are so many different types of people out there that who know's what that one in a million person might say. But, like you said, Bryan, you can't just sling some odd jargon about a $2 nail job, (your example sounded very Southern flamboyant, btw) on a baseball toting guy. Also, talking to yourself or your pet is highly recommended.

    The idea of writing with another author is such a suburb and exciting idea, especially with a fresh edge like your idea. While "Nick and Nora's..." is a great example of collab, I am so uber pumped about "Will Grayson, Will Grayson"!

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  3. Heh. Great entry. I like your wife. Largely because she sound a little like my husband in the "Just read it you snob" department.

    Before I got married, most of my friends (and I do mean friends, not boyfriends-in-waiting) were men. Then I married one of those friends and I gave birth to four boys, three of whom are now teenagers. I've written entire short stories from the male POV. I guess I was successful. They sold (shrugs). I don't know that I necessarily understand men (Just when I thought I did, I found out that you guys almost always have a Zombie Contingency Plan, but you're afraid to reach into women's purses for fear that you'll get cooties. So now I'm back at square one). I do run things by the guys in my household occasionally to be sure I'm not missing something significant, in terms of how a guy would think about something, but dialogue is just not that hard.

    Some men write women well. Many don't. It's irritating for the same reasons that you probably find badly written male characters annoying.

    Oh--and for fun:

  4. I've been working on a novel for the last year or so that features a group of people trapped in a drugstore, with each chapter switching voice and POV, and I've found it an incredibly difficult challeng. I want to be true to the characters and make you actually able to tell whose thoughts they are without the name at the front of each chapter.

    When I first started the book, I thought to myself "Huh, I'll crack off a quick little claustrophobic horror novel- perfect!"

    Now I find myself grouping each character's chapters together out of order, attempting to get them to come alive and sound authentic.


    I should have just had the zombies eat all but the sarcastic white hillbillys. Then my job would be easy.

  5. K.L. Going writes dudes well. I don't know how she does it.

    And when I write dialogue, I say screw the voice, I'm going to be as clever as I can be. Pacey from Dawson's Creek will bow down before my characters' wit and intelligence.

  6. "*This is not from an actual book."


  7. Okay.............finally done reeling from the DC reference. I don't mean to brag, ahem, but being a gay guy, I get the mind of a guy and the relentless ramblings of my girlfriends. The combination is somewhat overwhelming, though, when I sit down to write. Once I get passed the fear of misrepresenting someone or having my dialogue ooze with cheese, I really I am actually really lucky.

    Then, reality sets in when I type past and meant passed and realize I still suck at writing.