DIDN'T CONNECT WITH THE VOICE
First of all - welcome to this most sticky topic! This is one that is rife with debate. First, let me direct you to two posts on what voice is and how to cultivate it: RACHELLE GARDNER (this is a top notch agent, don't you know!) and Yatopian LORI GOLDSTEIN (Yup, the debut author of Becoming Jinn (coming April 21, 2015 (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan)). **note: Lori's amazing blog series on voice covers four posts, so make sure you check them all out!
I'll just have a soda while I wait for you to get back here...
Back? Great. No doubt you learned a lot there. And this is where we tackle the voice issue. What does it mean when people say they don't connect to the voice? It means, simply, the unique quality isn't there to grab them. Now, this is certainly subjective. We don't all like the same thing. However, if you are finding you get this response time and again, then it's time to see what you can do about it.
So let's look first at character voice:
I have discovered writers are "example" people, so I'll illustrate the voice issue by doing a little exercise. First, I will take a piece and write it in a neutral voice (we'll use 1st person POV for this exercise):
It rained heavily that day. The wind swept across my face and I cursed at the lack of forethought to bring a windbreaker. Danny would be so angry at me. He always said never to go out in the cold. Well, it wasn’t his choice. It was mine.
And now a voice from a younger girl (who happens not to be in a great mood!):
Rain slated down, stinging my eyes. Not half as bad as the wind cutting me in half though. Damn windbreaker - shouldn’t have left home without it. I can almost hear Danny’s taunting. Mr. Know It All.
And finally, a version from an older lady from a posh background:
The torrents poured from the heavens. Goodness, the wind had sharpened since this morning. Always remember a coat. How many times Danny had told me that, and yet I still forgot. Perhaps it might be better to just spare him the detail.
Hopefully, these three examples show how the exact same scene, circumstances, and concerns can be shown through different people's voices. In order to get someone to connect to the voice, YOU first have to connect to the voice. Now this is different from forming good sentences. Take the first example in neutral voice: it's bland and generic. Is the writing correct? It certainly is. Does it tell us anything about the characters? Sadly, no.
However, examples two and three show us distinct differences. The young girl has a fragmented way of talking, she uses words such as "damn" and "Mr. Know It All" and her tone is much more conversational. Compare this to the posh, older lady, who uses words like "torrents", "heavens", "goodness" and "spare him the detail" and you get a distinctly different feel.
Succinctly put, the character's voice is a culmination of their background, education, experiences, age, thought patterns, hobbies, social and economic background, and everything that makes them unique. Study the way different people of different age groups and social groups talk and interact and it will help you find your character's voice.
And now let's get onto the really tricky one...writer's voice...
The writer's voice is a special and wonderful thing. It is you on the page. And this is where I'm going to agree with the Rachelle Gardner post. It is your heart and soul on the page. Look at it this way. Think of everyone in your town - you all pretty much have the same accent, right? But you don't all have the same way of talking. You have your own style and rhythm and ways of emphasizing or not. This is YOUR voice.
Now, that's all well and good until someone doesn't connect with your voice. What can you do about that? Look at the emotion of your book, the theme, the heart filled thoughts behind them. Are you scratching the surface and writing cookie cutter words that describe an emotion the same way everyone else would describe it? Dig deeper. Way, way deeper...
There. Feel that emotion you really don't want anyone to see? See that unflinching honesty about how you really feel? That feeling that makes you proud? Sad? Devastated? Thrilled? Embarrassed? That is who you are. Heart, soul and body.
Now let's be honest...how often do you put that on every single page of your book? Honestly? No, I didn't think so. Most just want a great plot and good characters. You probably do have that. But to get that amazing voice - well, time to cut past everything that is on the surface and go a lot deeper.
Let me know how you find your writer's voice in the comments!! Good luck!