How to Discover and Develop Your Fiction Voice — Tips by Author Nat Russo

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© Nat Russo

Carrie De Simas

Editor in Chief @ GoneWithTheWord

How did you find your narrative voice? 

NR: If I had to single out a specific technique or “attribute” of voice, I would have to say “attitude” is the most important element. What the character sees, hears, tastes, smells, and physically touches is often far less interesting than what they think about what they’re sensing. That’s their attitude. And that, I believe, is what adds the necessary spice to my narration.

Have you ever tried to emulate other writers’ voices? 

NR: Sad to say, I made a feeble attempt at paying homage to Tom Clancy in one section of my book Necromancer Awakening. I thought it was absolutely brilliant, until several readers pointed out the opposite. My primary beta reader eventually said something like “stop trying to be the next Tom Clancy and be the first Nat Russo instead. You’re far better at being Nat than you are at being Tom!” I took those words to heart and did some heavy revising. That last sentence rings in my ears whenever I become consciously aware that I’m trying to emulate another writer’s style. I just stop and tell myself “be yourself”.

You have a way of describing people and situations in your writing that really stands out. Did this type of description just come naturally during writing or was it a work of revisions? For example:

Kaitlyn picked it up and handed it to him. “I hate that picture. I look like I bit into a lemon.” And that was exactly why he liked it. She was never prettier than when she was pretending to be ugly. (Necromancer Awakening, Nat Russo)

NR: Every time I was confronted with an issue of “craft” that I wasn’t very good at, I took a systematic approach toward improving it. This usually involved reading as much as I could on the subject in question.

You really torture your characters. The way you write these visions is very frugal with words, but powerful in terms of imagery. How did you decide which words and images made the cut?

NR: The first draft of Necromancer Awakening was around 180k words. The edition that was published is around 119k words. The cutting process was painful. I had to take several months off and…get some vital distance between myself and my work. When I came back to the keyboard, I asked “what is the heart of this story, and what can I do to best bring it to the forefront?”

I like to think of my prose in the same way I think of music. Music has beats, measures, and rhythm. An extra beat can throw the whole thing off. An extra word can do the same thing to a sentence, and it often has the effect of sapping tension out of the scene.

I also recommend that writers take the time to read their work out loud. Your physical voice will often reveal flaws in your prose that your mental voice misses.

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