Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Heart of Your Story

by guest blogger/s Sparkle Abbey.

Any fans of “The Voice” out there? Have you been watching this season? Wow. Just wow. What incredible talent! 

If you haven’t seen the show, let’s catch you up. “The Voice” is a singing competition with three phases: the blind auditions, the battle rounds, and the live performances. During the blind auditions, the celebrity coaches sit in large red chairs with their backs toward the stage. Each contestant has ninety seconds to sing for their life and get at least one coach to turn their chair around. If more than one coach turns, the contestant chooses which celebrity they want as a coach. It can get competitive fast once the power is in the hands of the contestant. The coaches flaunt their many accomplishments, diss their fellow coaches, and at times, are not above some old-fashioned begging. 

If only there was a reality show like this for writers, where editors fall all over themselves to tell us how amazing we are and how much they want to work with us. Right? 

As this season of the television show has played out, we’ve been struck not only by the fantastic voices of those who were chosen, but also by some incredibly talented singers who were not picked up. When the coaches pass on a contestant, instead of a generic, “not my cup of tea” or “it just didn’t grab me,” they give constructive comments, mostly centered on the lack of development of the performer’s voice. Some singers need to find who they are as an artist. Others are encouraged to study their craft and learn to work through their nerves. And there are some who, although they are “technically flawless,” lack an emotional connection with their song and ultimately with the coaches. 

Developing a strong singing voice takes practice, training, practice, more training and more practice. Sound familiar? 

But whether singing or putting words on the page, once you’ve got the technique down, there’s more. In both music and writing the goal is to connect with the audience. To evoke emotion.  And that happens through your writing voice. 

Your writing voice is the intangible thing that makes your work different from everyone else’s. It’s your particular way of telling a story and it begins with your view of the world and your life experience. 

Think about your favorite authors. Even if their name didn’t appear on the cover of the book, you’d recognize their work. The words their character’s use, the rhythm of the conversations, the way the author paints the setting with a handful of paragraphs or with a single sentence. When done right, their voice casts a spell, transporting the audience or reader to another world, time or place. 
In music, that unique voice is what catches your attention and makes you want more. It’s the same with writing. 

Your voice is the heart of your story. 

Though we believe voice isn’t something that can be taught, we do believe there are some things you can do to help strengthen your voice. 

1. Say it your way. Be true to yourself and your own experiences. Your individual truth is an ingredient of your unique voice. 

2. Dig deep. Use emotion, don’t hold back, share your fresh and original worldview. No one else sees life in exactly the same way you do. Use that.

3. Be brave. Using your true voice in your writing may seem scary. You may feel exposed. Good, then you’re almost there! Work on setting aside your fears and allowing your unique storytelling to come through. Vulnerability is strength.

4. Learn the craft. A strong voice is not simply spitting out raw prose and thinking you’ve got it down. Learn the basics, hone your writing skills, polish your work. Only then can your voice shine through. 

5. Don’t over edit. By that we absolutely do not mean, don’t edit. Bad writing is bad writing and must be whipped into shape. However, fix the grammar, improve the sentence structure, correct the punctuation, but don’t edit the life out of your work. 

6. Stay strong. Listen to your coaches, your beta readers and critique partners. They have your best interests in mind. But don’t let your desire to do it right or make it marketable, overcome your storytelling voice. It’s possible to be technically correct and lose your voice in the process.

Ultimately, it’s your voice – that wonderfully different and distinctive way you string words together – that’s what will make your work stand out from the millions of other storytellers. 

In The Voice competition and in writing and publishing, those who do well: have talent, learn from their coaches, and work hard to hone their skills. It takes all of those things to create great stories.

But those who stand out will have that difficult-to-define element that makes their work memorable, makes you want to hear more, and tugs at your heart. That’s voice. 

As Voice coach, Pharrell Williams, said to a contestant in one of the final episodes of this season, “This is what you were born to do.” 

For you, too, writers, this is what you were born to do.

Thank-you so much Seekerville for letting us stop by! And now we have a question for all of you:

Are you aware of “voice” when you read a book? And, if so, what elements do you think makes a particular writer’s voice speak to you? 

By the way, there will be a drawing among those commenting for a Sparkle Abbey book of your choice. 

Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of mystery authors Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter. They’ve chosen to use Sparkle Abbey as their pen name on this series because they liked the idea of combining the names of their two rescue pets – Sparkle (ML’s cat) and Abbey (Anita’s dog). The authors co-write the bestselling Pampered Pets Mystery Series which focuses on the wacky world of precious pedigrees, pampered pooches, and secrets in posh Laguna Beach, California. The main characters and amateur sleuths are Texas cousins, Carolina Lamont, a pet therapist, and Melinda Langston, a pet boutique owner. The first books in the series, Desperate Housedogs, Get Fluffy, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, Yip/Tuck, Fifty Shades of Greyhound, and The Girl with the Dachshund Tattoo have received rave reviews. Midwest Book Review calls the series, “A fun and sassy mystery!”

The next installment, coming in June, Downton Tabby, is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

The authors love to hear from readers so stop by their website or visit them on Facebook at: to check out all their news.


  1. I know as a reader that some books do resonate with me more than others.

  2. Good morning! I loved your post today. I am a big fan of The Voice and loved the analogy you used in your post.

    I believe I am aware of the voice when I read. When a book really pulls me in, I can hear the different voices used. For example, the book I am reading right now is a well written book that when I am in the heroine's head I hear her voice and when I am in the hero's head I hear his voice. Some books are good, but when I have to keep trying to figure out which character is speaking or thinking, it takes away from the story.

    I would love to win one of your books.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  3. Welcome ladies and dog and cat.

    Hi paw five !

    I've got coffee and water dishes set out. Bagels and Kibble.

    Great to have you back in the house with us!

  4. I love voice because it's the one thing you cannot teach. But you can help people to uncover which is like a treasure hunt. And you can help them to not lose it too.

    It's what makes, a Mary and a Ruthy and a Julie identifiable just by their WORDS.

  5. Do Sparkle and Abbey have the same voice or does Sparkle Abbey have a voice and Sparkle and Abbey have two separate voices?? Hmmmm. How do you make Sparkle Abbey always have the same voice and not more or less of Spark and Abbey individually?

    I bet your editor has fun with this.

  6. I am such a huge fan of this post as to be shaking pom-poms and doing jumps! This is awesome, and a perfect analogy!

    Thank you, ladies! Here's something The Voice taught me this year: It pays to have a lot of young teen girls voting a gazillion times, LOL! But the plus side of that, is that those teens will buy/listen/record everything that Sawyer does! I remember having a crush on Davy Jones of the Monkees when I was 12. I remember so many girls having fits over Bobby Sherman.... Those were the young heart-throbs of the 60's and 70's and it's so funny in retrospect, and delightfully normal!

    And Sawyer is from a farm in the Hudson Valley area, so hats off to New York farm boys!

    It's a cookie kind of day! Too warm for snickerdoodles, but I have trays of fresh chocolate chip cookies, just waitin' on youse!

  7. Tina, I was wondering the same thing??????

    Girls, tell us! How do you smoooooooth it out?

  8. Hi Mary Lee and Anita!

    Welcome to Seekerville. I edited and edited one of my stories last year, and by the time it made it to an agent he/she said I'd edited my voice right out of it. The story had been through two crit groups and a paid editor and the agent was right.

    Thanks for all these great tips!

    I hope you all have a blessed day! Today's my 26th anniversary, and I'm feeling especially blessed!

  9. Jackie.... that happens so often, more than you know. I learned to be really careful about who saw my work because not everyone sees with the same worldview, tilt or lilt!

    Keep your voice and have fun with it! (Sorry, sneaked in and saw this!)

  10. Such great advice about voice, one of the hardest concepts for writers to grasp. As some famous person once said, "Just be you. Everyone else is taken." Or something like that.

    Hey, Ruthy, toss me a couple of those chocolate chip cookies, will ya? I'm assuming there's plenty of coffee. Hazlenut or French Vanilla creamer should do me. I'll pass on the kibble, Tina.

    Have a great day, y'all!

  11. I do believe this post was spot on for me! Great and helpful insights that remind me of how I need to write.

    Thanks for sharing! :)

  12. Thanks for the welcome, Tina. Coffee and bagels sound great!

  13. Well said, Cindy W. and so true. When a book is well done you're never lost as to who is speaking and that makes it seem like you're living in the story. You forget you're reading!

  14. Ruth, we see you shaking pom-poms and doing jumps. :-) Thanks for the cookies! If only we had such an enthusiastic crowd like those teen girls, right?

  15. Ah, the two voices of Sparkle Abbey...
    Great question, Tina. Well, because the series features two main characters: Caro, a pet therapist, and Melinda, a pet boutique owner, who are cousins there are two voices in the story. (We co-write by alternating books. Mary Lee writes the Caro books and Anita writes the Mel books.) The "tone" of the stories is the same - light-hearted mystery - and we hope pleasing. Kind of like when The Voice contestants perform a song together. :-)

  16. Jackie, Happy 26th Anniversary!!
    We agree with Ruth. This happens more than you know. We want to get it right and it's important to polish, but... you have to make sure you're not losing the part of the story that is your unique telling of it.

  17. What a great post! AndI confess, I watch less than one hour of television a week (usually a month). I've heard so much about The Voice, and I want to watch it. But when it comes to choosing between writing or watching, I usually choose writing. :)

    I'm learning to write in my voice. I think blogging has helped me to find it, to a degree. It's fun when I see it pop out. :)

    I love the suggestions you offer for finding and writing in our voice. Such great words here!

  18. Jeanne, good for you. Always choose writing! A great point on learning your voice. Sometimes writing other things strengthens that muscle. Just like on The Voice where the vocalists are encouraged to try other styles of music.

  19. Welcome, ladies! It's neat that you've found a way to blend your individual voices via these two story characters. And I love your The Voice analogy!

    I have to agree--finding your unique voice is often a writer's greatest challenge, and the only way is to just keep writing until it's really YOU coming out on the page.

    I think it's also important to read in a lot of different genres, not just to expose yourself to a variety of voices but so you don't subconsciously start imitating a favorite author.

  20. I remember the first time someone told me they liked my voice. My question to them was, what voice? It's hard for me to recognize my own voice, but I know it's there. Thanks for the great post!

  21. Myra, that's a great tip! Reading in a lot of different genres does help tremendously. It all feeds that uniqueness that makes you sound like you!

  22. Oh yes, I can always tell when I'm reading a Ruthy, Mary, Julie and Pam stories. Love it! Thanks for coming, ladies and Sparkle and Abbey!

  23. Marianne, that's so true, isn't it? We believe that's what makes us automatically pick up a beloved author's latest.

  24. Apparently we need more coffee this morning, the Captcha thinks we're a robot and keeps asking us to identify sushi!

  25. Mary and Anita, WELCOME BACK TO SEEKERVILLE, and WOW, what a stellar post!!!

    Voice is incredibly important to me, and I love those authors whose voice is sooooo clear, like our sweet gun-blazing Mary Connealy or Ruth Logan Herne, especially in her blogs.

    You said, "Say it your way. Be true to yourself and your own experiences. Your individual truth is an ingredient of your unique voice."

    I couldn't agree more! I am a very casual speaker, but when I started writing historicals, I had to temper that somewhat because language was more formal and stilted in the early 1900s in places like Boston and San Fran (where my books are set). I didn't like tempering it at all because my casual self just ached to get through. So I did casual in the best way I could -- in thought and expression, using only words and expressions from that time period. Hopefully it works, although I have gotten a few reviews pointing out that my language was too modern. But as we all know -- you sure can't please everybody, so it just makes sense to stay true to your voice within reason, period.


  26. When you edit do you have to watch for pet phrases- no pun intended- that may ruin the voice continuity?

  27. That's right, Julie. You've nailed the most difficult concept of voice. Your characters should sound like themselves - not you. However, your voice, your truth, your way of telling their story needs to shine through. It's hard work to hit that mark. But when you see it done well by authors like Mary Connealy, Ruth Logan Herne, Cheryl St. John, Tina Russo Radcliffe - you recognize it.

    That's why we think you've got to work hard to be true to yourself. :-)

  28. Tina, we do. We try to make sure that we comb through for particular phrasing or even certain words that will mess with the continuity of the stories.

    We have to say that's a little easier for us to spot now than it was at first.

  29. I have never watched The Voice but it sounds interesting. Voice is definitely important in writing and something that is hard to define sometimes. It is also something hard to imitate. An author really needs to find his or her own voice.

  30. Welcome to Seekerville, gals! Thanks for the excellent tips for strengthening voice.

    When the choice of words creates emotion or reveals insight that impacts me, I'm reading an author with a strong voice.

    Love the fun title and cover of the latest Sparkle Abbey release! Congratulations!


  31. Sandy,
    You're so right about voice being hard to define at times. But we all know it when we hear it, it just leaps off the page.
    We've noticed that the longer we write, the stronger our voice becomes.

  32. I love "voice" lessons. :)
    I'm very aware of voice. If a book feels generic, I can't get into it.

    You made a great point about not overediting. Take care of the real problems, smooth rough edges. But don't get rid of what makes your writing unique.

    Great points!

  33. Janet,

    You're dead on about word choice. The right word or words will place the reader in the moment, evoke emotion, and affect the pacing of a story.

    Thanks for the warm welcome. We love you guys!

  34. Brava on a great post! I already have your books, so I don't want in the drawing, but loved reading this. Great advice!

  35. Julie made an awesome point above, about shifting your voice to reflect the norms of the times, but keeping it true.

    Julie, sometimes I find that easier to do in my historicals because there's a sense of pattern in the way people talked, depending on their station. (Think "Pygmalion") And since there's no one around to call me a liar, it's almost easier to lapse into those forms of speech because they're more casual/proper. What a perfect way to put it!

    I find it trickier to give voice variations in the contemporaries because I write those in lyrical/conversational English, so it's easy to mess up and not show off the character's depth . I find I have to go in and fix it, deepen it, or polish it throughout the book on the second and third draft, just so they don't all sound like Ruthy bossing the world.

    (Now if they do all sound that way, it is OKAY to not say that out loud. I have delicate feelings!!!!)

  36. This comment has been removed by the author.

  37. Courtney,
    So true! If a book lacks a strong voice, it's easy to put it down.

  38. Hi Ritter!
    It was a fun post to write. We love the show and we love to talk about voice. :)

  39. Ruth, a great way to put it. And you make an important point in that it doesn't always flow right out onto the page.

    That going in and fixing, deepening, polishing is our favorite part of the process!

  40. Welcome back, Mary Lee and Anita! What a great post. I guess I think of voice as a conglomeration of life experiences, personality, and writing style.

    It's fun to think about voice. I love when someone I know tells me they could hear me talking in their head as they read my story. :)

  41. Hi Sparkle Abbey! Great blog post. I love reading books in which I can "hear" the writers unique voice, as well as read a great story. I think having a distinct voice is what distinguishes someone who can tell a good story from someone who can is a good writer AND a good storyteller. Some of my favorite authors that I could recognize without even seeing their name on the spine are Meg Cabot, LM Montgomery, Kate Morton, Agatha Christie, Cleo Coyle, Jenn McKinlay, and Gail Carriger. Many of these author have written in different genres and time periods, but they still stay true to themselves.

    Have a great day!

  42. Thanks, Missy! Great to see you here. Voice really is that mix of what we've experienced in life, our personalities, and writing style.

    The fascinating thing is that in writing instruction we always warn about author intrusion. But "voice" is different. It's not the author intruding on the story.

    It's a fine line.

    You should still hear the characters and hear their voices and their distinct personalities.

    However, the way the story unfolds, the "heart" of the story is what makes each story special.

  43. Hi, Mary Lee and Anita! Thanks for the great post.

    Voice can be hard to describe, but it's wonderful to experience. When I read my first book by Laura Frantz, I was enthralled by her lyrical voice. (I was also a smidge jealous, but let's not dwell on that.) Laura paints vivid pictures with her prose. I'm sure it would only take a paragraph or two for me to know I was reading her work.

    What's interesting is that I can't really describe my authorial Voice. When my debut novel came out, I was surprised to hear others describe it. Who knew I'd written a story that, to quote my RT reviewer, was a "laugh-out-loud" tale? I didn't set out to be funny. I leave that to masters like Mary Connealy, Erica Vetsch and Margaret Brownley. In fact, when I try to be funny, I rarely succeed. I'm the person who often gets a joke five minutes after everyone else and has to explain the delayed laughter. And telling jokes? Um, nope. Not one of my strengths. I forget punchlines.

    I'm curious. Do you think it's common for authors to be blind to what makes their Voice distinctive, or are most authors aware of the uniqueness of their Voice?

  44. Stephanie, Meg Cabot is a great example! She has a very distinctive voice regards of the genre she's writing in. We had a chance to hear her speak at the library here recently and would have to say that it's definitely created by her view of the world.

  45. Distinctive voice!! Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series!!!

  46. Great question, Keli. We think authors are often unaware of their unique voices and that's why it's so easy to lose it. When we look at our own early work as we were learning the craft, it's so easy to see the influence of a well-respected writing mentor. Her phrasing, her word choices, her tone. Not her fault. We were so hungry to learn that we absorbed everything!

    We believe you have to go back to why it was that you wanted to tell a particular story. Why this story? Why these characters? What tugged at you? And then once you've got the basics down you have to tell the story your way.

    What does everyone else think?
    Are you aware of your unique voice?

  47. hi ladies
    I LOVE The Voice. Mostly for the verbal interplay of the Coaches. I enjoy watching the development of the singers, but a the show moves on, I'm less riveted for some reason. Perhaps because I don't buy music, or just enjoy the great talent I get to see on the screen. Maybe because the Coach interplay is less. I do love the Coach/contestant scenes though. Great life advice gets doled out - you'll miss it if you don't pay attention.

    I love how you tied so much to finding/developing one's writer Voice. I'm not sure if I've developed one yet. I do recognize the Voice of authors I love. Each Seeker definitely has a Voice I can recognize, each unique and so fun to read!

    thanks for the questions you've posted in the comments. especially the Whys? Great food for thought. Thanks for sharing!!!!

  48. Voice is one of those aspects of a story that I love. It's subtle and sometimes hardest to define, but it pulls you into the writer's world that he/she has created and makes his or her characters real-er to you.

    I can tell when a blog post here is written by Ruthy, a novel is a Julie story. Dee Henderson, Irene Hannon, and Lynette Eason also have distinctive writing voices, and reading such authors always makes me feel like I'm visiting old friends!

    I confess I've never read a Sparkle Abbey book, but they sound like a hoot! I'd love to have my name tossed in the cat dish for the drawing, a la Ruthy-style! ;) Thanks for the great post!

  49. Tina, absolutely! Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series has a very distinctive voice.

    Has anyone read the romance's she published prior to One For the Money?
    Do they have the same feel?

  50. Beautifully stated post. For me, I recognize the voice of well written books with strong, consistent character development. If my daughters are listening to an audiobook from some of my favorite authors series, I can usually tell exactly which author and series is playing. I do not watch the Voice, but our daughters do. I found it interesting to watch my oldest daughter learn ASL and the transition to finding her "voice" in ASL! I love your series and have preordered Downton Tabby! A great mystery and pets, what more could a mystery and pet enthusiast want?

  51. Do you think an author's voice changes with the genre she's writing? Seems like a suspense author's voice would differ from when she's writing historical romances. Yet I'm guessing elements like her world view and past experiences would come out in both.


  52. Thanks so much, servedogmom!

    What an interesting concept, finding your voice in ASL. A different communication tool but we're each unique and that comes through no matter the mode of communication.

  53. Janet, we think you're right. A suspense will sound different and the pace will be different than...say, a cozy. However, when we think of some of the great suspense writers, it's that tone/worldview that comes through and makes me pick up the next book.

    Someone earlier (maybe Sarah?) said it's like visiting old friends. That's very true of us and favorite authors.

  54. Ladies, your book titles are terrific. Not only are they fun plays on phrases, titles, etc., but they quickly relay the 'feel' of the books. Applause!

    I am keenly aware of voice when I read a book. For me, voice is about individuality (how I can tell one of Audra's books from one of Tina's, for example) and freshness (a new take or approach to a plot/idea). Thanks for this: Say it your way. Be true to yourself and your own experiences. Your individual truth is an ingredient of your unique voice.

    Please enter me in the drawing :-)

    Nancy C

  55. This is great. Learning to be true to your voice is definitely not for the faint of heart. Particularly in the early years of writing, I was all over the map. I won't say I've mastered it, or even really figured out what my voice is, but I think the years of practice have helped hone it.

    There is one good thing about being on unpubbed island for so many gave me a lot of chances to take voice lessons. Where was Garth, Adam, and Pharrell when I needed them????

  56. LOL, Pam! Indeed, where were those voice coaches when we needed them! We agree, it is not an easy thing...learning to be true to your voice but no one else can tell your story, your way.

  57. RUTHY SAID: "Julie, sometimes I find that easier to do in my historicals because there's a sense of pattern in the way people talked, depending on their station. (Think "Pygmalion") And since there's no one around to call me a liar, it's almost easier to lapse into those forms of speech because they're more casual/proper. What a perfect way to put it!

    I find it trickier to give voice variations in the contemporaries because I write those in lyrical/conversational English, so it's easy to mess up and not show off the character's depth . I find I have to go in and fix it, deepen it, or polish it throughout the book on the second and third draft, just so they don't all sound like Ruthy bossing the world."

    YES, Ruthy, I totally understand your point and agree with you that it IS "trickier" with contemporaries (at least for me because I'm an old broad who's trying to talk like young kids today), whereas with the historicals, as long as you get the historical facts correct, you can still use your own voice and who knows if it's right or wrong historically?


  58. Hi Sparkle Abbey, What a fun name for the two of you authors. Thanks for posting in Seekerville today. Wow, that elusive VOICE. I love learning more about it because it is what editors say they want but it is so difficult to explain. Thanks again.

    1. You're right it is what editors say they want and judges on The Voice also. Hard to explain but when they see it..,

  59. So apparently as I begin to age I may be more suited to historicals? SIGH!

    I could channel a cat and do what Sparkle Abbey does. I know how to speak cat.

  60. Thanks for the great article ladies. I'm working on my voice and dealing with my two rescue tuxedo kitty out to conquer the world and one sassy basset who knows the world is hers. Please put me in the drawing.

    1. Bettie, a sassy basset and a feisty tuxedo kitty sound like great writing helpers. ;-)

  61. I think speaking animal is way fun.

    I can do Mr. Ed.

  62. Thanks for your post about voice. While I don't watch the television show "The Voice," I do have favorite authors whose voices come through loud and clear.

    I agree with Tina. Janet Evanovich has a distinctive voice. I've read the pre-Stephanie Plums. They have her voice, and there are predecessors of Grandma Mazur and Bob.

    But I digress. One of the commenters even said she can tell the different Seekers by their comments. Wow.

    I also agree that sometimes I think I edit too much.

    And I also have a Basset hound. We adopted ours from a rescue in January, and she's a senior but she often acts like a puppy.

    Thanks for the info on voice.

  63. Hi Tanya - Thanks for stopping by. We agree those pre-Stephanie Plum book have a hint of Janet's voice. But when it really came through in the Stephanie Plum books - boom! It's like she really came into her own.

    Editing is important but we all can over-edit. We want a clean, polished and well-written manuscript but one that still tells the story in our own way.

    Bless you for adopting a rescue and a senior too! She's lucky to have you. <3

  64. I've heard people say I have a unique voice.
    So I suppose I do. But it's not something I'm aware of when I'm writing.

    And yet I read other beloved authors and their voice is so obvious and dependable that I have no doubt who they are.

  65. Mary - As earlier posters mentioned, you definitely have a unique voice! One that we love.

  66. Love the name of your books!
    I like to be kept guessing through the whole book. Hints but a- wow I didn't see that coming is what I like and there are many authors here that do that wonderfully :)
    toss me into the hat I'd love to read one of your books!

  67. It's the author's story that prompts me to pick up a book. it's the author's voice that makes me a fan. I can completely hear the voices of my favorite authors, and over the years, I've learned to see my own. Even when I change from writing serious suspense to snarky comedic suspense, I can see threads of *me* woven throughout.

    I just wrote a blog post today about the use of character description, about how some authors use a lot and others use barely any, and how readers judge books based on how characters are described. Some of that too is the author's voice. I talked about author preference and style, but voice is at the heart of it.

    Thank you for such a beautifully written and thorough post!

  68. Sheyna - Thanks so much! We'll have to check out your post on character description.

  69. Thanks, Deanna. We do have a lot of fun thinking up titles. :-)

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