silhouette, shadow, sidewalk, pedestrians, wall

A young writer said to me, “I feel discouraged because it feels as though any type of original idea has been done to death. Vampire fiction, romance fiction, high fantasy fiction… Whenever I try to think of something of my own, it seems like someone’s already done it before.”

She’s right. This stuff is daunting.

First: “Vampire fiction, romance fiction, high fantasy fiction,” these are already unoriginal. Pick up a book about a woman escaping her life. Say, to a lonely cottage. In Scotland. With wine. By the end of the first chapter she has met a gorgeous man whose charms get on her nerves. He’s her polar opposite. I know where this is going and I’ve already put the book down.

Second: The young writer is correct, all stories have been written.

(I probably wasn’t very encouraging.)

Third: Genres aren’t bad. They’re useful guides for readers (he likes historical! she likes horror!) and booksellers (this one gets shelved in sci-fi, that one in mystery).

So how can you create something unique?

Voice. Yours. You. Get your voice on the page.

I’m preaching to myself here. It’s easier said than written. When the young writer asked me how to get her voice on the page, all I could tell her was to practice, practice, practice, write, study, read, practice, write, rewrite and rewrite some more. That’s what I do, anyway. I don’t think it’s what she wanted to hear (she hasn’t gotten back to me, and it’s been days.) What do you do?

Some of my favorite strong voices are Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Daphne DuMaurier, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway. The stories are great. What makes them genius is the voice.

How about some voices from live people? Cheryl Strayed, Lisa See, Sherman Alexie, Junot Diaz, Alan Bennett, Kazuo Ishiguro, Marilynne Robinson, Muriel Barbery, Margaret Atwood…we can go on forever. Good books are told by great voices.

Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces is very telling. See how many stories you can apply it to. A lot, right? Yeah, a lot. Like maybe most. So I try to tell my tale and not worry. Once I get the story down—the beginning/middle/end—then my rewrites are all about voice.

Got a favorite voice? Tell us in the comments.

#genres#Joseph Campbell#The Hero With a Thousand Faces#voice


  1. William Kendall - September 17, 2016 @ 07:42

    You’re quite right- voice is absolutely essential. Michael Shaara’s voice in his novel The Killer Angels is a favourite one to me- he captures the personalities of military commanders just right.

    Too many aspiring authors were spending far too much time thinking of supernatural triangles with two guys and one barely legal high school girl, thanks to Stephanie Meyer.

    • Petrea - September 17, 2016 @ 07:58

      You’ve got that right, William. We all want to have a best-seller, but Meyer wasn’t imitating anyone, she was writing her own story, and yes, people wanted more so imitators came along. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to write something that will sell, if that’s what a person wants to do. But writing to a trend seems impossible, especially because trends can change quickly.

  2. Sara - September 17, 2016 @ 10:28

    I love Junot Diaz, he just jumps off the page for me. I think that’s the hardest work as a writer – putting the words on a page in way that’s authentically yours.

    • Petrea - September 17, 2016 @ 11:49

      Hi Sara! Yeah, Diaz knocked me off my center and made me listen! Now that’s a distinctive voice, and inspiration for me to do that hard work.

  3. Ann Erdman - September 17, 2016 @ 11:23

    I’m finding my way to where my book is going. And slowly but surely discovering Millie’s voice. I have a long road ahead but the ride is worth it. I appreciate your feedback and wisdom so much.

    • Petrea - September 17, 2016 @ 11:49

      Thank you for that vote of confidence, Ann. I’m glad you’re enjoying the work!

  4. Carol Wuenschell - September 19, 2016 @ 09:53

    I agree, Petrea. I think that for fantasy (my genre) in particular, the ending is rarely really in doubt. Was there ever any doubt that the One Ring would be destroyed and Middle Earth be saved? Not really. It isn’t the ending, it’s the journey. So take us on a journey that is yours alone, along a path that only you could find. And voice is part of that.

    • Petrea - September 22, 2016 @ 08:33

      That’s so well said, Carol. Yes.

  5. Shelley - September 25, 2016 @ 23:46

    I think you’ve given me lots to think about, Petrea – as always. 🙂

    • Petrea - September 26, 2016 @ 06:49

      Your writer’s voice is always individual and clear, Shelley.

  6. Lowell - September 30, 2016 @ 06:08

    You’ve voiced this well! I’m not writing much anymore, except political diatribes against a certain orange monster, because I’m too old and it’s too hard. But I thoroughly enjoy your comments and thoughts and the special insights you bring to the process.

    • Petrea - September 30, 2016 @ 09:07

      I like your writing, Lowell, and even if you only do it at your blog it’s always worth a visit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published / Required fields are marked *