Friday, May 6, 2016

Too Many Voices?


Fiction writing, like anything else, has its basics.  Define your characters.  Show, don’t tell.  Make the reader not just know, but see, feel and smell.

But, knowing the basics isn’t enough.  One of the first things every writer is advised to do is seek the critiques of other writers or editors.  I’ve benefitted, as I’m sure all writers have, from the feedback of editors.  A clear editorial voice can help develop a writer's sense of focus and clarity, and an internal protocol for refining one’s own work.

But, what is of dubious value is when a whole team of editors are all working on the same submitted story at the same time.  They’re all doing their best, but it does go to prove just how subjective the process really is.  This may be especially true if you’re a science fiction writer like me, creating a new world that the audience has never seen.  I had one editor on a team who told me to take a breather in the middle of an action scene (and, the POV character is being chased and fighting for his life here, you understand) and slip in some expository on certain gadgets and futuristic references.  I’m like: “I don’t think so.”  Then, three paragraphs later, the chase scene is over and I do take a breather to drop in some narrative explanation about how this world is put together, and another editor on the team makes the opposite complaint, telling me to scrap the expository “author dump” and break the information down and spread it through the story.

Every critical observation does have value; it trains you to be on the lookout for weaknesses and avoid repeating past mistakes.  But, the conflicting viewpoints and priorities of different editors proves another basic truth of writing:  Every writer has to find his or her own individual voice.  Just make sure the reader can hear it.

One strong solitary editorial voice, I think, is the best way to put a themed anthology together in such a way that effectively combines the individual vision of the author with the editor’s vision of what the anthology is supposed to be about.  That’s especially true when the star of the themed anthology is an established, popular character.  In assembling the anthology “An Improbable Truth:  The Paranormal Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” we contributing authors had the benefit of a strong and consistent editorial voice in refining our individual stories.  That was beneficial not only to the anthology but to sharpening my own skill as a writer.  I’m sure we all benefited from the experience and hope for more such projects, even as we work on our own individual projects.

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