Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

On Voice And Love

Aaaaaah! How is it already August 20th? And how has it been a month?

How? How? How?

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, I bring you a long-promised nuggets-of-wisdom post from my last residency at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. While my first residency back in January got dubbed as “The Plague” residency, because pretty much  everyone was sick (except for me!), this one became known as “The Summer of Love.” The lecture on voice by one of our incredible advisors, Martine Leavitt, was a huge part of the whole love theme that permeated our ten days. I am going to share the highlights from that lecture here with you guys — with Martine’s permission, of course. Thanks, Martine, for the wisdom and the inspiration. And for allowing me to share the love.


Voice. Such an elusive concept, isn’t it? We know when the author has achieved it. But how to grasp it? How to master it?

According to Martine, you need to think of voice as an integral part of the story. “Voice begets character and character begets plot.”

All right, but where does voice come from? What exactly IS voice anyway?

Here are Martine’s answers: Voice is…

— The author’s personality and worldview

— A combination of diction, sentence patterns, tone and point of view

— Attitude

— Author’s natural narrative tendencies

— Authenticity

— What the author is writing about

— Style

— Appropriate and well-modulated mood

The way Martine summed it up was: “Voice is what you hear in your mind’s ear as you read.” Or, to look at it another way, Martine offered a quote from Eudora Welty: “The sound of what falls on the page begins the process of testing it for truth.”


What can you do to find your voice as a writer? How can you strengthen it?

Here are Martine’s suggestions:

— Read the best books. “Figure out what makes you jealous. It is often a clue to what your natural tendencies might be.”

— Read aloud.

— Research primary sources. Read the stories and poetry and songs of the day.

— Try imitating. As an exercise, pick a passage or a poem you admire and try to write something with the same structure.

— Notice when you get it right and aim to sustain that.

— Relax! Dare to be dreadful! “A voice can’t be heard if there is no breath…”

— Avoid fancy words. Don’t overwrite. (Which is a whole another lecture).

— “Cower at cliche. Avoid hearts and stomachs and anything else that clenches.”

— “Use the language of the perceiving subject. Let the character talk and think in terms of his significant attachments to life, his desires and his history.”

— Choose your distance (from your character) thoughtfully. Think about the reason for this character to tell the story.

And after all these helpful suggestions, Martine revealed the true secret to voice. Ready? It is, of course love.


“Love for words, love for the reader, love for the world, love for the work.”

If we think about it, isn’t love the secret to pretty much anything?

Yep, that’s what Ray Bradbury said, too.

“Love is the answer to everything. It is the only reason to do anything.” Ray Bradbury

Below are some ways you can love more:

— “Think of your reader sitting next to you,” Martine said. “Think: I want to tell you a story.”

— Wait between projects, listen for a voice.

— Love your character. “Close your eyes and become that person. What does it feel like? What does he see? What does he do? What does he do next?… Never stop being that boy, as you write. Don’t think about the weather until he looks up at the sky.”

— Avoid sentimentality and mannerism. “Sentimentality comes from false emotion” and mannerism is simply “the author’s wish to distinguish herself.” Instead, Martine invites you to “imaginatively become your character.”

— Pay attention. Be here. Don’t be so focused on always taking “your own pulse.” Martine offered another great quote, this one from poet Ralph Angel: “By attending to things and beings… one forgets about oneself and travels some distance. Language becomes voice in that open space.”

— Finally, “Be kind,” Martine said at the end of the lecture. “This is what makes a great writer.”

Be kind. These words. From now on, I will take them with me everywhere I go. I hope you all do too.




August 20, 2013 - Posted by | VCFA Adventures, What I've Learned Series, Writing Mirror | , , , ,


  1. I have had to think so much about voice as I write a multi-generational saga. Yes, I see my sentence patterns throughout. But then there are all the protagonists – some male, some female in 6 different eras.It’s challenging me! I am really happy for this post, Katia. I love all the emphasis on the reader.

    KIND of you to share.

    Comment by joycemoyerhostetter | August 20, 2013 | Reply

    • Ha-ha, Joyce. 🙂 Man, nailing voice in a story like this sounds incredibly challenging. But I know you’re up for it, Joyce! Have I mentioned, I can’t wait to read it?

      Comment by Katia Raina | August 20, 2013 | Reply

      • I want you to read it. I need you to read it.

        Comment by joycemoyerhostetter | August 23, 2013

      • Oops, I just saw this! Well, Joyce, any time. You know where to find me. 😉

        Comment by Katia Raina | August 23, 2013

  2. What great definitions of the hardest aspect of writing to define–voice. Thank you, Katia, for the concrete suggestions on how to find voice.

    Comment by MaryZ | August 20, 2013 | Reply

    • Well, I am really kind of a messenger here. The suggestions are all Martine’s. She’s a genius.

      Comment by Katia Raina | August 20, 2013 | Reply

  3. Thank you, Katia. I will study this post to find ways to apply these words of wisdom to my poetry. I’m sending it on to Lynn Reebe. She’s the poet I told you about who is interested in writing children’s stories.


    Comment by maggymoogie | August 20, 2013 | Reply

    • I truly do think this wisdom can be applicable to pretty much any writing, right? Especially poetry! Wishing you and Lynn lots of luck — and love. 🙂

      Comment by Katia Raina | August 20, 2013 | Reply

  4. I am reading a book right now that is told from several different points of view, but unfortunately, it only has one voice. 8-( Lots of good advice in this post. Thanks.

    Comment by Rosi | August 20, 2013 | Reply

    • Yikes! But glad you enjoyed the post, Rosi!

      Comment by Katia Raina | August 20, 2013 | Reply

  5. Great tips. My critique group says I have a distinct voice. At first I wasn’t sure about this, but then I saw what they meant.

    Comment by Medeia Sharif | August 21, 2013 | Reply

    • Awesome that they can “hear” it, and that you can, too!

      Comment by Katia Raina | August 21, 2013 | Reply

  6. I just adore information like this, Katia, and am so appreciative 🙂 Thank you!

    Comment by writersideup | August 21, 2013 | Reply

  7. Thanks for sharing, Katia! This post is chock full of great tips. Wish I could join you at VCFA.

    Comment by Clara Gillow Clark | August 22, 2013 | Reply

    • Well, Clara, at least this way you can join me a little 🙂

      Comment by Katia Raina | August 22, 2013 | Reply

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