In Good Voice

Me and my first guitar (which I never really learned to play). Notice my adoring sister, listening as if enraptured by my really great music. Also note the tan polyester pants. They scream “Rock Star!”

Before I aspired to be a writer, in fact before I even knew how to write, I wanted to be a singer. I sang all the time. When I woke up? Singing. Riding in the way back of our family station wagon (faced backwards, mind you)? Singing. In the bathroom? Singing. Singing. Singing.

All. The. Time.

I joined every choir I could, tried out for every musical (even accidentally auditioned for the Grand Rapids Opera). Eventually I took voice lessons and learned the art of singing opera and art music and show tunes.

I was known in high school as a singer. That was just fine by me.

Before most of my performances my Grandma Relf would ask me if I was “in good voice”. I always told her that I hoped so.

These days I don’t get a lot of opportunities to perform. Once a month or so I sing back-up in a worship band, but that’s about it. I sing in the van sometimes. There are days when I get stuck in my writing and I pound away on the piano and sing whatever strikes my fancy (and hopefully remember to shut the windows so the neighbors don’t think I’m crazy).

I use my voice differently now.

I use it in my writing.

In the writing world, when we talk about voice, we’re referring to the way the writer uses words. How he or she forms a sentence or paragraph. The hope is that the voice rings true — that it sounds like something a person would really say. We aim to make the voice appealing, welcoming, unique. It’s reflective of the author’s style.

We want to be “in good voice” when we write.

Last week I read a book that had an inventive, startlingly genius plot. It had a character I liked (only one, which disappointed me a bit). The whole time I spent reading I kept thinking, “I should like this book. I should be falling all over myself to get back to reading it. I should be WRECKED by this amazing story.”

But I didn’t like it.

What did I feel about it?


(No, I will not tell you the title of the book…others have adored it and I don’t want anyone throwing eggs at me. Also, I refuse to trash books online).

It took me a few days to figure it out.

I went to Facebook, that collector of people, to ask if anyone else had struggled with the book. The reaction was split about 50/50. Some LOVELOVELOVED the book. Others HATEHATEHATED it. One had hugged it to her while another had chucked it against a wall.

I kept reading because I wanted to come into a liking of the book.

Then, I realized what it was. What made me so “bleh” about the book.

I didn’t like the voice.

What didn’t I like about it? The excessive description laden prose that convoluted the story. That all the characters had the same voice. The word choices that pushed me out of the story from time to time.

The voice wasn’t my…well…flavor.

If you were to ask me, I would have said that the author hadn’t used her “good voice”. But, if you asked a few of my dear friends, they would probably say the voice was pitch perfect.

Who’s right?

All of us.

We all have different preferences and that’s GREAT!

Some people like opera, some like pop. Still others like rap while some enjoy that screamy music. Some want a little twang and others a wobbly vibrato.

The voice in which I write isn’t for everybody. That’s cool. Because not all voices are for me. That happens with singers too.

And it’s all part of the artsy fartsy world.

I’m just going to keep on doing my best to be “in good voice”.

How about you? What is it that you like or hate about books? Have you ever read a book that had almost all of the essential elements of a good story, but that missing link left you wanting? Feel free to chime in. I love hearing from you!




4 Comments on “In Good Voice

  1. I felt like this about a book I read for a reading group this summer. A super famous new novel by a super famous novelist. And all I felt was meh. Like you.
    I am someone who puts novels down if I don’t care about what happens (too many books in this world I want to read to sit around with the meh ones for me) but I stuck with it for the same of the group. Most of the group was of the LOVELOVELOVE variety. Totally shocked me. So I kept my grievances quiet. I am always concerned about sounding like a book snob.
    I probably should have shared.
    Thanks for writing. And awesome picture. 🙂


    • Thank you, Elizabeth. 🙂

      I need to be better about putting books down when they’re icky to me. I’m always hoping for a little redemption of the story. Usually I don’t get a good pay off. Sigh.


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