How We Write: Joanne Rock Shouts Out About Voice…

HoWW is an amazing place today, thanks to Jenni’s and my guest blogger, Joanne Rock. Joanne’s skill as an author is equalled only by her excellence as a teacher, a friend, a mother, and an amazing human being… Yeah, she’s a really good friend. And my “date” to publisher parties. And a beautiful person. But check out her bio below. She’s published fifty novels. 5-0. When this woman talks about voice, listen. Soak in every word. Try the exercises she suggests. Do it. You’ll be amazed what you’ll learn.


Voice is every writer’s bread and butter, and Joanne has nailed how to encourage and challenge and inspire the very heart of what you do. I’m so excited to have her join the How We Write guest blog family!

Check back with HoWW next Wednesday, for Kara Lennox’s take on
your novel’s Black Moment!


In your writing journey, you may have come across books that say there are thirty-two basic storylines throughout fiction.  Or twelve master plots.  Or five core stories that we retell over and over.  One of those storylines is always “Boy Meets Girl.”  It’s the story that I tell along with a thousand other authors every year.  What makes one thousand different versions of “Boy Meets Girl” interesting?  The same thing that has made it interesting for centuries.  Voice.

A writer’s voice is her single most powerful tool.  Without it, your story is flat and lifeless, destined for the rejection pile.  With it, your work comes alive.  Voice makes your story sing or weep.  It is the indelible stamp of the author on each and every page.  You can remove some characters and story threads from your book and still sell your manuscript.  Remove voice and you’ve committed the cardinal sin of writing.  You haven’t been true to yourself.

Knowing voice is such a valuable tool, how do you find yours?  I recommend a few simple writing exercises to aid in the search.  If you’re not sure what kind of writing voice you have – or if you’ve even discovered your voice – you need to visit a website like creative writing prompts. Scroll through some of the prompts to find a few that interest you.   Then, write the suggested stories with a comedic approach.  A Gothic tone.  A suspenseful sound.  Play around with darker and lighter versions.  Try writing the scene as a romance.  A thriller. A brooding literary piece.  You don’t need to write long.  Try short pieces that are 250 or five hundred words and see how they feel.  What types of writing come most naturally?  What kinds of writing are difficult? 

Then, try a completely different writing prompt and see what story quickly comes to mind.  A mystery?  A comedy?  These are clues to your voice style.  If you find the Gothic tone easy and fun, and you find yourself writing each prompt with a dark sound, you know you’ve found your natural voice.  I encourage you to try this exercise even if you enjoy whatever you’re writing now.  You may find an aptitude for another kind of voice altogether.

Now that you’ve identified your voice, how can you strengthen and hone it?  Voice is like writing itself – it grows stronger with practice and use.  Write often and think about consciously using your voice. How can you insert more voice in a scene?  How can you tone down your voice when it becomes too prominent, interfering with the action?  We’ve all read stories like that, where the writer is too concerned about being entertaining, or about creating a certain kind of atmosphere, to pay enough attention to the plot.  That’s when voice goes wrong. 

By playing with how much voice you use in a story, you make yourself more aware of voice.  This is a first step toward exercising control over this powerful story element.  You can also strengthen your voice by identifying it and playing to your strengths.  Once you know that your natural voice is comedic, try pushing the humor button harder.  Then, try being wry and amusing instead of uproarious.  These subtle shifts in your voice will give you all the more range and depth. 

Protect it! Once you’ve found your voice, you must safeguard it from well-meaning critique partners, editors and contest judges.  Often, when your voice is strongest, it stirs the most reaction.  So don’t be surprised when contest judges hammer you for it.  Do not make changes in your manuscript just because outside readers told you to.  That results in whitewashing all the voice out of a book.   Lack of voice is the kiss of death for a manuscript, so protect that strong voice at all costs.  Remember, characters may come and go, but a powerful voice resonates long after a reader closes your book.


Joanne Rock is the author of over fifty romance novels for a variety of Harlequin publishing programs, including HQ Blaze and HQ Historicals.  Look for her FREE online read Living the Fantasy and her 28th Blaze novel, Making a Splash in stores now.  Visit Joanne’s website and Facebook  page to keep up with all her events and releases.


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4 Responses to “How We Write: Joanne Rock Shouts Out About Voice…”

  1. Hi Joanne … I’ve found my writing voice but never thought of playing with it. I love your suggestions to vary it by sometimes pushing the envelope and sometimes pulling back. Great ideas!

    And protecting one’s voice is so important. This should be part of a writer’s 101 class. But we’re so ready to please everyone that we change and change and change the words until they’re no longer recognizable as ours.

    Thanks for sharing such great thoughts on voice!

  2. Joanne Rock says:

    Hi Sheila! I had worked on my historical voice for years before I found I had a voice for contemporaries. It was a fun surprise to see how much I had to say and the flow was really natural. Now, I can see the moments when my contemporary voice wants to creep into my medievals and I battle it back. Sometimes it helps to turn up the medieval music or read a non-fiction historical piece. Who’d have thought I would have to protect one voice from my other?

    Thanks so much for stopping by the blog!

  3. Gail Chianese says:

    Hi Joanne. Hope all is well and thanks for sharing this advice on voice. As a new author I hear the term all the time and get a variety of answers on what it is, but had yet to get an answer on recognizing it and making it better. Will have to try the tips you gave out. Sounds kind of fun.

    The one thing I have learned is protecting your voice, or style, from helpful readers. A good friend of mine always tells me to remember it’s my story and I have the right to say, “no, I want it this way.”

  4. Joanne Rock says:

    Hi Gail! I still find it difficult to walk that line between protecting my voice – and my vision for a story- and conceding to smart revision suggestions. Sometimes I need to walk away from a story with the revisions in mind and then come back to it later with new eyes to see the wisdom of the suggestions.

    And then… other times you just *can’t* see the wisdom and need to decide if you want to make a nod to the critiquer’s / editor’s concerns, or if you need to protect the work. Definitely a push-pull process!

    Thanks for dropping by the blog and good luck with your writing!

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