T.J. started an important topic 2 days ago about voice. We've all heard about voice, the long and short of it. But what is it basically?
Voice is that special brand of writing unique to an author. It's how you write - whether you use long paragraphs of description that however mingles seamlessly into your story (think Tolkien and Jilly Cooper); whether you ramp up the emotion and describe every little happening in the emotional drive (Marian Keyes and Katherine Garbera); whether you write with humour and wit (think Sophie Kinsella and Jill Mansell and also Janet Evanovich); whether you're known for the unexpected twists and turns you bring to a story (Sidney Sheldon and again, Jill Mansell); whether you write about hard issues in a way that sucks in everyone (Martina Cole). It's something that as a writer passes through your words and makes the way you write unique.
One thing many confuse is voice and genre. Voice transcends genre, for example Philippa Gregory writes both contemporaries and historicals, yet the way she lays out her story and her wording immerses you into the plot irrespective of whether she is writing about small-town England or the Elizabethan era. As a writer, say for example your particular brand is funny and witty. Whether you write a contemporary or a fantasy, your readers who are follwoing you won't bother that you're asking for a suspension of disbelief when in the fantasy world. They want to read you because they want that funny streak.
And that's the mastery of voice. Your voice is how you write. Period. Now if like Sophie Kinsella you write funny contemporaries about modern and slightly silly but endearing characters, you as a reader read Sophie Kinsella because you know there will be that funny tone in her works. Now imagine Ms. Kinsella going way off to another genre - say a paranormal. You expect to see something along the lines of Sabrina The Teenage Witch from her pen, not the Dresden Files of Jim Butcher.
T.J. mentions consistency of voice. It's plain and simply that how you write is supposed to be consistent, unless you expressly want to branch out to another voice (again, think funny v/s dark and dismal), you need to build this new voice, and expect that not everyone will follow and you may also lose readers this way.
Another aspect of voice is what POV you use. If your readers love your 1st person takes, be careful when venturing to 3rd person. It may be easier to switch from 3rd to 1st, but always expect that the reader who reads you in one POV and liked your style may not like the other POV because the two are inherently different.
One other thing - your voice is yours, most definitely, but you have to ask yourself whether this voice agrees with the market of today and the market you are targetting. Anyone who's read a Betty Neels M&B will know what I mean here. Ms. Neels wrote about romance but her stories were more about narration and the day-to-day happenings of the characters. Take a look at any M&B today, and romance in general, and you will see it is action and character-driven. The story is in your face, and you are not supposed to go about how the heroine Marie spent her day first visiting the cats in the loft of the barn, then she whiled away the afternoon with a stroll by the lake and then she came back home as the dark was descending to have a hearty meal of shepherd's pie before going to sleep. This was good when Ms. Neels wrote circa the 70s, but it is not what the market of the post-2000 looks for.
An author who comes to my mind every time I think of mastery of character involvement in Harlequin and Mills and Boon stories is Katherine Garbera. Okay, a Blaze book is only 180 or so pages long, and I can read that in 2 hours. But with Katherine Garbera's books, I do it in just over an hour. Why? Because she sucks me into the story and I feel I'm there in the scenes, and it is oh-so-hard to break away without knowing how the H/h are gonna end up together! This is all thanks to her voice, because a Blaze is always a Blaze with H/h kept apart yet with a fire burning between them. You know they'll overcome all obstacles and get that HEA, yet why is it some other Blazes you can put down at page 60 and then pick up to get to 100, and then to 120, and so on, while for some you simply have to read it all in one go?
Voice, again, is the key.
I hope I didn't further muddy the waters for you. Any questions, feel free to holler!
By the way, come check my new website - it just went fully live this week!
Aasiyah Qamar - Cultural Romantic Fiction, With a Twist
Coming out October 2 - Light My World - Eirelander Publishing
Nolwynn Ardennes - The Promise of Fulfilment
Coming out in January 8, 2010 - Storms in a Shot Glass - Eirelander Publishing
Aasiyah Qamar/Nolwynn Ardennes - Romance the world over