Tuesday, December 23, 2008


…no, not the spooky voice that calls my name, waking me out of a deep sleep in the middle of the night. Like any sensible girl, I ignore that voice!

Hi, I’m Shereen Vedam, author of fantasy and regency romance short stories.

I’m here to talk about voice, as in the voice of authors you love to read; their tone, humor, interjections in the narrative that makes you laugh out loud and say to friends and family, you have got to read this book.

Everyone has different reasons why they love a particular author’s voice. Recently, I discovered what about an author’s voice that makes me pick a book off the shelves.

This past week, I was reading an anthology – one that included one of my short stories (Dragon Dreams). I was curious about the other short stories the editor had picked for this anthology. Some were written by famous fantasy authors, others fresh on the fantasy scene, and some never before published.

For me, reading a book of short stories is like going grocery shopping. As I walk down the aisles in search of items I need, I check and double check my list. Occasionally, I pick up things I never planned to buy. Hmm…this looks interesting. I hesitate, then impulsively toss it into the cart, ruthlessly flattening my budget.

In this same manner, I delved into this anthology by first searching out an author I knew I would like (I have a collection of his novels – Jim C. Hines). Then, tentatively, I tried an unknown author.

Over the next few days, each morning on the bus ride to work, I read another short story and then another. One story seemed a bit odd, the next interesting. One left me completely confused by the style of prose until the end and then I thought, Oh, how cool. (Scout by Mary Turzillo)

Then I came across one that had me turning page after page, chuckling to myself. At the end of that short story, the bio said this author, over his lifetime, “collected just about every award the field has to offer.” His name was Fritz Leiber.

He was the inspiration for this blog – that indefinable voice of an author.

Voice is a very subjective experience. In this same anthology, Cat Tales edited by George H. Scithers, the stories that intrigued and entertained me would very likely be vastly different from the ones that call to you.

That said, I was still curious…what is it about an author’s voice that makes it appealing, enticing, memorable and collectible?

I took a closer look at Leiber’s voice in this short story and what about it I found so pleasurable.

  1. His worldview was compatible with mine – cats and their needs are important.
  2. His humor was unique – one example is the point of view of the main character, which was the cat, leading to the humans in the story being named from the cat’s point of view (Kitty-Come-Here is the wife, loved that, and Old Horsemeat is the husband - Leiber took his time explaining this title but it came eventually and was well worth waiting for).
  3. His story telling ability – flawless (not by any particular grammar rules but in lack of obvious mistakes), great story arc, consistently entertaining narrative voice and a satisfying ending.
  4. Appealing characters – characters that appeal to me are often realistic and flawed, but loveable, nevertheless, because they have the best of intentions.
  5. Use of concrete details – this can bring a story alive so it feels as if it’s being reenacted in my own kitchen.
  6. Irony and foreshadowing – I didn’t notice this until the second read, and it was priceless.
  7. He understood the importance of irrelevance – the whole mystery in the story is completely irrelevant but in our lives, the things that often upset us most are usually just that, something totally irrelevant. Therefore, making what’s irrelevant relevant not only builds in humor but also generates sympathy in the reader.


Here’s an excerpt from Kreativity For Kats by Fritz Leiber appearing in Cat Tales

There was a mystery about the spilled water. It had apparently disappeared entirely, though the day seemed hardly dry enough for total evaporation. Then she saw it standing in a puddle by the wall fully ten feet away from the bowl. She made a quick deduction and frowned a bit worriedly.

“I never realized the kitchen floor sloped that much,” she told Old Horsemeat after dinner. “Maybe some beams need to be jacked up in the basement. I’d hate to think of collapsing into it while I cooked dinner.”

“I’m sure this house finished all its settling thirty years ago,” her husband assured her hurriedly. “That slope’s always been there.”

“Well, if you say so,” Kitty-Come-Here allowed doubtfully.


To me, voice is a combination of things. It’s how an author sees the world, finds entertaining in it and then expresses that viewpoint by the choice and order of words, phrases and expressions he or she uses.

I believe building an effective and appealing Voice requires both skill and confidence.

In essence, Voice is the story.

In preparation for this blog, I posted a question on voice on a few Amazon forums asking readers and authors what they found appealing enough about an author’s voice to make them return to that author again and again. The following were on their Christmas reading wish list:

  • sharp beginnings
  • action scenes
  • clean prose
  • rhythm and flow
  • don't talk down to the reader
  • interesting ever-evolving story
  • no gratuitous swearing or sex
  • returning (familiar) characters
  • likeable characters

A good author’s voice can entice a reader to stalk them on the internet, in book stores, and at conferences and conventions. Crafting that appealing voice is a writer’s Holy Grail.

So, who are the voices on your bookshelf? What is it about an author's voice that keeps you huddled beneath the blanket on a cold wintry night, reading? Why do you put some books down half way through, but forget to get off the bus at work because you were lost in a story?

Shereen Vedam


Louisa Cornell said...

What an intriguing post, Shereen! Especially those things people look for in an author's voice.

I look for honesty in a voice. I look for the kind of voice that draws me in and won't let go. Anna Campbell comes to mind. Her voice is so powerful and so unique. She lays human emotion and suffering bare. Her characters are very realistic and true to the Regency period. You see what they are going through emotionally and you suffer with them. That makes me want to read from cover to cover because I want to see how these characters grow. Try Claiming the Courtesan or Untouched and you'll see. I think if an author can make you invest in the emotional journey of the characters you will be hooked.

Another author who writes the sort of characters you really connect with is Diane Gaston. Read The Mysterious Miss M or Scandalizing the Ton and you'll see what I mean. You care about these people and want to take the journey with them. They have to make tough choices and you have to read on to see what choices they make and the consequences of those choices.

Another author who will grab you and stun you, try Loretta Chase. Lord of Scoundrels will blow you away. The characters are larger than life, but their emotional lives are very relatable.

Clover Autrey said...

Great thoughts, Shereen. Voice is so very important. The character I think I spent months thinking about after finishing the book was Joss from Warchild. That's voice.

Shereen Vedam said...


Thanks for dropping in. Yes, if you remember the character long after you finish the book, I think that means that author's voice has captured your imagination.


Shereen Vedam said...

I had a couple of people make additional comments to this blog.

Rip8fan1 at the Amazon fantasy forum says:
In response to your blog post (I couldn't post there):
Authors that leave me wanting more of their work:

Isaac Asimov - he creates realistic worlds, where I would love to live.

Dean Koontz - His earlier work just astounded me in how scary it was, while sounding plausible.

Lawrence Block - His mysteries are really intriguing trying to figure out who-done-it.

Piers Anthony - Writes, Writes, and Writes.

Simon Haynes - His science fiction is humorous, and he puts in a good amount of effort.

Janet Evanovich - She has some of the funniest books for being 'mysteries' that I've read.

Clive Cussler - Top of the game for action on the high seas.

Matthew Reilly - Top of the game for action, action, action.


And he gave me a listing of other authors he loves. You can find it under the fantasy forum in Amazon.

A few more items mentioned on the paranormal loop:

Denni says she loves any author who can suck her into the story so it feels as if she's living there.

Amy added she like a story that shows compassion, humor, irony, humanity and what Denni calls vulnerability.

And I missed Christine Prebber's post who said she likes authors that distil something complex into something simple, like wisdom.

This has been a great topic to talk to people about and get their take on what captures their interest in stories.

Thanks to everyone for sharing!


Christine_Prebler said...

aI followed your links from amazon.com to this blog. I really enjoyed reading your post about author voice. Thanks so much for mentioning me in your blog.

I have a blog at blogspot.com as well. I write about vampires, books, etc.

Take care,
Christine Prebler

Shereen Vedam said...

Thank you for your comment, Christine.

Merry Christmas, almost.

It's snowing here again, on the west coast, so it will be a white one.


Debra St. John said...

Wow...voice is such a difficult thing to describe. It definitely pulls me into a story, but I'm not sure I can specifically put my finger on why. Yes, the characters, plot, setting, etc. all have to be there, but that component of voice, HOW the author tells the story, is just as important.

Viola Estrella said...

Great post, Shereen! To me, voice is all about the characters. It's their dialogue, internal dialogue, and actions. An author really has to know their characters to keep the "voice" throughout the story. Some authors I think excel at this are Charlaine Harris, Janet Evanovich, and Jennifer Crusie, to name a few.

Shereen Vedam said...


Good point. HOW an author tells their story is definitely a key.


Characters can make or break a story. How that character is conveyed through the writing is linked to Debra's point above, I believe.

In doing this blog, I found it harder to pin down voice when I think about all the books I love.

It gets closer to the truth when you narrow it down to ONE author, ONE book, maybe even ONE Character that caught, held and captured your imagination and emotions.

And from there I think we can step back to where the reader learns to TRUST that author's voice to deliver something (even if they can't name what that is) but that they love.

That's when the collection mania starts, and your bank account begins to suffer, lol.


Claire said...

I found my way over to this blog from Amazon.com. I agree with others that this is an intriguing post/question.

I have been sitting here pondering how an author pulls me in and captures my attention.
1. I like to "know" my characters and what makes them tick.
2. If a woman character appears to need rescuing I want to know she has an inner strength we can watch develop throughout the book/series. I love to watch a character "grow up" and/or learn to trust and love.
3. If a woman is very strong I like to see her use her brain and listen to what those around her have to say.
I love the Carpathian series, but every heroine, although strong, never/rarely listens to reason. She's so busy worrying about herself and her loss of independence that she puts herself and others in danger. I find this to be extremely annoying.
4. If an author writes in the 1st person the book really has to draw me in since I'm not overly partial to the 1st person. This is one reason I haven't purchased Charlene Harris' series...yet. (I'm sure I will sometime soon) ;o)
5. Compassion, humor and liberal use of imagery are also important.
6. Dialog is very important in how the characters react to each other.
7. It's important to me that even if characters do not like each other at the beginning they will develop a mutual respect fairly quickly. I do not care for characters in typical romance novels who argue and don't like each other through most of the book, and all of a sudden at the end of the story fall into each others arms and decide to get married.

Shereen Vedam said...


Thanks for tracking down this thread and your thoughtful comments.

And after reading them, I think you're in the group that says, how characters are developed is very important.

I agree. Well crafted, engaging, round characters that evolve and don't annoy us :-) is vital.

Even in the short story I was analyzing, it is the characters that still linger in my memory.


Monya Clayton said...

Looked up your blog post after commenting on Amazon. You said there you appreciated the point made about difference between plot and story. I believe we writers have to learn to trust our Voice, gut feeling, whatever you call it, outside the publisher/popularity demands.

In the end we must be, if not satisfied the story is perfect - we never think it is! - at least secure in the knowledge we put our idea across in the best way we possibly could.

I have a short story available at www.thewildrosepress.com, "Lily's Captain". So nice to run across someone who likes this sub-genre of writing. Because there's so little market for them, we tend to write books instead of short stories, and it's a serious deficiency in the world of writing.

Monya Clayton
author of The Pirate And The Puritan (as Mary Clayton)

Shereen Vedam said...

Hi Monya,

Short stories are definitely underrated.

I tend to be very picky in my reading, partly because of time factors, and partly because, like many people, I like what I like and don't like what I don't like.

Shorts give me an inkling of an author's voice, to see if I will like it or not, if it is compatible with my sensibilities, if it makes me trust this author to deliver stories that entertain me...before I invest the larger time commitment and cost of a full novel.

Shereen, the frugal one, lol