One of my favourite authors is Kylie Kaden because she writes a damn good character driven novel – my favourite kind. Her characters resonate with me; I love the exquisite way their layers unravel during the juicy situations she places them in. Kylie has two bestsellers, and her third novel is due for release in August 2019. I ran into her at a recent writers’ event (have I mentioned lately how important it is for all writers to get out from behind their desks and network?), so I took the opportunity to pose a question to her that I’m often asked by writers usually grappling with their first novel – how does a writer find their voice; is it a formulaic process? When I’m asked this question, people will rattle off the name of their favourite author and mention that by the time they’ve read six or seven of their novels they all start to sound similar.
Kylie’s three novels in, not six or seven, but I do like her response:
‘Having winged my first book (and most of my second), I feel a tad unqualified to talk about finding a writer’s voice. It sounds hard. Like a windswept, uphill adventure involving a hip-flask and walking stick. But I travelled no such voyage. For me, writing is an unconscious, gut instinct most of the time. In fact, my throat still tightens a squidge every time I say ‘I’m a writer’, fearful that alarms will sound, people will point and shout ‘she has no business calling herself that’. Suffice to say finding my voice was a short and flukey journey.
‘My first attempt at writing (mostly for sanity-preservation reasons whilst on mat leave) was found on the slush pile at Random House about a year after I started. I was gobsmacked. Losing Kate then launched in April. But it wasn’t until they accepted my second (Missing You, released April 2015) that I realised I just might be doing something right, and perhaps it was my ignorance of all rules that made me distinct. My third, The Day The Lies Began, is out August 2019 – and only now am I feeling legit.
‘Many ingredients go into writing. Your style is the result of the decisions you make at the word level. Tone and word-appropriateness are dictated by audience and purpose – the odd ‘f’ bomb may be considered acceptable by many in a work of contemporary fiction, but entirely taboo in a professional or technical piece. But the all-important ‘voice’ is the relationship you have with your reader. What comes through about you. What makes the work distinct. Like the core of the onion after all the layers are pulled away. So how can that be anything but raw, essentially you?
‘So, I’ve come to believe ‘voice’ should take the least effort. Hone your craft, consider structure and pace, and edit till your eyes twitch. But voice? It’s within you. It’s organic. It’s the one thing most susceptible to being ‘lost in translation’. Kind of like soul. The way I see it novels are a marathon not a sprint and to remain consistent (for a hundred thousand words or so) I can’t be thinking too hard about the personality behind each word. I need to churn them out, work that cursor across those pesky blank lines without falling out of character.
‘One of the great things about my editor is her willingness to leave personality on the page. Genre conventions are one thing, but no one wants to read a contrived, formulaic, well-rehearsed act, or a watered-down version of the writers-favourite-author. Don’t try to please everyone – readers yearn for honesty. Authenticity. A different spin on the well-trodden plot; the quirky turn of phrase, the off-beat observation, the slightly-insane interpretation of a common situation. I feel these little nuances make fiction shine.
‘In short, I believe the advice your mother dished out on your first nervous day of school, ‘just be yourself,’ is just as apt when it comes to writing. If it’s not working, you may just be trying too hard.’
Kylie’s words resonate. I agree – there’s a fine line between trying too hard and not trying enough. For sure, perfect your craft – you must learn the craft of writing – but don’t neutralise your voice in the honing of your craft.
Kylie is presenting at Arana Hills Library from 6pm – 7:30pm on Tuesday 23rd October on ‘Creative Writing Basics’. Bookings required.
If you haven’t already read Losing Kate and Missing You, I highly recommend you do so. Not only are they riveting reads, they’re great case studies in character writing.