Finding Your Author’s Voice

To write books that are authentic, compelling, and memorable, says Petaluma author Amanda McTigue, speaking at the CWC-Marin May meeting, you need to develop your voice. Voice is the secret sauce that distinguishes what you write from what other authors write.

But it’s not an add-on, she stresses, it is the telling in storytelling. The voice is the story.

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McTigue is author of the novel Going to Solace, set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, where she grew up. The story follows family members and caregivers whose paths cross as they go to local hospice, called Solace. McTigue, who also writes short stories and plays, is a longtime member of Redwood Writers.

How does an author find his or her voice? Well, that’s not easy to distill in a few sentences.

One simple way, says McTigue, is to change your focus. She led us through an exercise at the meeting. First, she asked us to take a minute to describe the room we were in. Then she showed us some photos, including one of a barefoot refugee child in front of a row of tents, peeking over a fence. Another of a old woman with a scowl on her face.. Then she said, describe the room again, through the eyes of that child or woman. I wrote about how the refugee child would see a bunch of older people sitting in chair and wearing shoes. Just having a different person looking at the scene changes the voice.

McTigue also stressed that asking questions about your work is key to finding your voice. Questions like who are we writing for and why? She used two examples to illustrate how these questions might be answered. Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Gene: An Intimate History, is writing a popular science book for readers who are open to what he is writing. On the other hand, Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of Between the World and Me, writes the book as a letter to his son, but the actual audience is white people who are clueless about what it’s like to be black.

The choices those authors make about their audience and the goal of their book influence the voice.

You can learn more about Amanda McTigue at amandamctigue.com.

(This is but a brief sample of what we learned. There’s no substitute for attending these valuable meetings in person. Don’t miss short story writer extraordinaire Molly Giles, who will be presenting her wit and wisdom at the June 26 meeting.)

PHOTO BY TIBIDABO PHOTOGRAPHY