Finding Your Voice
By Evan Braun
This post is part of our special series that will unpack the criteria we consider when evaluating manuscripts. Today we are unpacking the important role of your author voice. Whether you are in the midst of writing, or have already received feedback from us, our hope is that this series will provide the insight you need to make your manuscript even better. View the full series here.
If you’ve ever submitted a manuscript to Word Alive Press’s annual Braun Book Awards (formerly the free publishing contest), you’ll have received feedback from us. The very last category on which books are scored is called Voice. This term can mean different things to different people, but in our case we’re looking specifically at this question: “Does the writer’s faith/experience impart unique qualities to the work?”
Well, let’s unpack that a little bit.
Everyone’s story is unique. Even if you found ten people who had all gone through something similar—say, a divorce, a cancer scare, or the death of a loved one—you would still end up with ten highly individual sets of experiences, no two of them alike.
Indeed, our individuality is what makes our stories so compelling.
And that’s what we’re looking for when it comes to a strong voice. We want to discover manuscripts where the authors dig deep into their personal experience and share vulnerably of themselves. It’s in that vulnerability where readers will find their point of connection.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Many people have built up walls around themselves, around their most painful and affecting experiences, and it’s a struggle to break through.
In Christian literature, this sometimes this manifests itself in a surprising way: with authors who lean hard into theology instead of digging into their personal lives. Now, there’s nothing wrong, of course, with a strong emphasis on theology. As spiritual writers, we love to dig around in the nooks and crannies of the Bible and pull out the amazing breadth of meaning to be found there. It’s what we do!
But in some cases, this can lead authors to eschew personal stories in favour of impersonal ones, which can dampen a book’s potential. Anyone with a good head for research can produce a deep-dive Bible study into Ephesians, for example, but only you can interpret that book through the lens of your own experience. The result will be a book that only you could write, no one else.
So please don’t be afraid to be real and transparent with us. Don’t be afraid to put your cards down on the table and level with us.
Don’t be afraid to open your mouth and let your voice come shining through.
Now, as I conclude today’s post, let me make a point that I’ve already made a couple of other times in this blog series. It bears repeating because the reminder is important: although it may seem at first blush like this advice only applies to one side of the fiction/non-fiction spectrum—in this case, non-fiction—let me assure you that your fiction benefits just as strongly from the author embracing their unique voice.
In fiction, your voice is given life through your characters. Although their actions, reactions, and experiences may not be perfect representations of you, they will reflect your worldview, your own life, and the many people you know. As such, when you’re being true to yourself, even in fiction your voice will come through loud and clear. If you let it.
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About this Contributor:
Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. Braun is an experienced professional editor, and has worked with Word Alive Press authors since 2006. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.