Deb Sarah Can’t Sing (at all) But She Does Have Some Thoughts on Voice

It’s true. I have a terrible singing voice. So terrible, in fact, that I sometimes lip sync in church for fear of irritating my fellow churchgoers. And don’t ask me to sing a high note—it will come out in an odd-sounding squeak. While no amount of voice lessons will turn me into a candidate for American Idol, I have been thinking a lot about my writing voice. Some thoughts on that:

I picked up a book recently (and I will not divulge the name of it) and I had a funny reaction: The narrator’s voice seemed so inconsistent that it left me feeling jolted around. I don’t know how else to describe the effect, other than to say I’d get into a great passage or page, and then—bam—something would jar me out of the rhythm (flow, dialogue, an odd description—something) and I’d pull away from the book—like I’d just taken a punch to the stomach—and think “what was that?!”

This made me think a lot about the power an author has. When I’m reading a book, I like to believe that the author has my back, that they have expertly paced the dialogue, considered how new scenes change the rhythm, and ultimately make me feel like I’m in good hands for my reading experience. In a way, the reader-author relationship is an intimate one. As readers, we let authors grab the wheel and take us on a journey, and we trust her to give us an intelligent, interesting and engaging ride (and to follow traffic rules and not drive haphazardly).

Maybe I’m over-analyzing things here, but all I can say is that when I began reading The Book That Shall Remain Unnamed, I did not feel protected, I did not feel like the author had my back. I felt like I was on my own. And it was a reminder to me of how important a carefully planned voice is.

Or maybe it’s not so much voice, but a certain je ne sais quoi, of a novel that creates the magic? I don’t know, but I’m calling it a consistent voice for now and hoping my stories have it!

In other news, I started my fourth novel recently, and I’m kind of flipping out about the concept. More on that soon!

xo, Sarah

P.S. I love Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby. White Christmas anyone?

5 Replies to “Deb Sarah Can’t Sing (at all) But She Does Have Some Thoughts on Voice”

  1. Another non-singer here. Even my darling hubs, who thinks I’m practically perfect in every way (yes, he’s delusional, but I love him anyway), admits I can’t negotiate a musical note to save my life.

    I agree about the reader-author relationship. When I read a book where the voice is “off,” it’s akin to listening to a person speak in an awful fake accent. The obvious lack of authenticity destroys the…I dunnoh, the “communicative trust,” you might call it.

  2. Sure – same thing goes for character development in a series. Characters need to grow, but I read the last (not said to be final but mercifully it appears to have been) book in a mystery series that launched in the 1960s. One of the main characters, the LOVE INTEREST for two decades+ did something so inappropriate to who she was that every Amazon review was smoking with flames from long time readers. It was as if someone else had picked up the “pen” and written the book. Which, from what I’ve heard, is likely the case as the author is about 98 years old, if EVEN ALIVE. Now, several years ago I read the light, fanciful Archy McNally series of Palm Beach mysteries by Lawrence Sanders. Mr. Sanders died and someone took over the series – Vincent Lardo – he handled Archie with a deft touch and was true to the characters. I make a great Sunday gravy – but if you ask me to come to your house and make YOUR Sunday gravy for your family while you’re in Boolah Moolah on vacation, I’m going to try to duplicate YOURS so that your family is happy.

    That’s not asking for too much in a book, is it? Keep us feeling on track – I know what you mean, Sarah. It’s sloppy editing too as far as I’m concerned.


  3. I too can’t sing, but I always belt along when I’m at Disneyland — can’t help it.

    Voice and character are huge when we’re reading, and also when we’re watching. I find the same issue (and I’ve mentioned it here) with long-running TV shows. It doesn’t happen to the best of them, but sometimes the writers (or the network, or whoever has the final say at that point of the show) get sloppy, and the characters will do things that don’t ring true at all. As a viewer, you immediately leave the reality of the show, and stop caring about the characters.

  4. Oh, would that I could sing like Rosemary (and get my hands on that black velvet number she gets to wear in that White Christmas Gotta-win-back-Bing scene…)

    Sarah, I so agree that it can be hard to pinpoint just what doesn’t click when that happens. As a writer, I think it’s equally as frustrating. We know as we are writing–be it a character or maybe a scene–that something is missing, something is off–but what? Then of course we have to figure out how to fix it. As a reader, we may just set a book down, but as a writer (presuming we are committed to the project) we have to get to the bottom of it, and that journey can be agonizing. Sometimes I find a short scene of dialog or exposition can get me over “the gap”, sometimes it takes a lot more fleshing out. That said, there is nothing sweeter than feeling the “click” when it finally comes. (20 drafts later, sometimes–but who’s counting?)

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