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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Friday, December 08, 2006

Voice, Voice, Baby

By Jenna Ness aka Jennie Lucas

Guess what? I finished The Spaniard’s Stolen Bride and emailed it to my editor late last night! (Feel free to applaud now.) So like any self-respecting woman (especially those who are 8 months pregnant), I went to the grocery store to buy myself some chocolates to celebrate.

My celebration was abruptly cut short when I saw a book on the shelf titled The Stolen Bride by well-known author Brenda Joyce.

Talk about a buzzkill. You mean my title’s already been done? So maybe I’m not so original after all? Say it ain’t so!

Other Noodlers have seen this happen: duplicated titles or books with the exact same high-concept ideas mysteriously get produced by other writers at the exact same time. It’s not plagiarism. We all live in the same culture, and ideas that seem unique actually are bubbling beneath all of us like a virus. (Okay, I know that’s a mangled analogy, but give me a break! I wrote for seven hours straight yesterday!)

Anyway, so I snatched the book off the shelf. Fortunately, I was quickly reassured. First, Brenda Joyce’s book is a historical. Second, her plot is completely different. I had nothing to worry about.

But not for the reasons I first thought.

There are few original titles, if any. There are few original ideas, if any. Everybody knows this. Everything has already been done before. So why even bother to write new books?

Because what makes a story new is the way you write it.

We’ve all heard about workshops where the participants are given the same high-concept idea, and yet their stories are always completely different. Your voice is who you are. The things that interest you (in my case, world travel, fashion, emotion) and the things that don’t (housecleaning, marathon-running, accounting – obviously, I’d never be able to write a Pink book!).

What do you focus on in your story? What do you ignore? Do you tell your story with humor or melodrama or both? Do you use lots of sensory detail, or is it more intellectual? What about segueways? Is your plot gritty and real? A slice of life? Or totally escapist? What is the emotional distance in your POV? And most importantly – what is your core story, the basic theme that you unconsciously repeat in every book you write?

Taking all of this into account, I can guarantee you that even if Brenda Joyce had written a novel about a man stealing his enemy’s bride from Morocco and holding her captive in a Spanish castle, her book would still be different from mine. Her core story is different. Her format is different. Most of all, her voice is different.

If you’re still not sure what I mean by “voice”, here’s an easy way to see exactly what I mean. Go to (or any of the online music places; I just happen to subscribe to napster) and sign up for a free trial.

Plug in the song “Santa Baby” into the search engine, and listen to the top three tracks.

First, listen to the Faith Evans version. It’s sweet, young, and a little bland.

Now, listen to the Madonna version. Pouty, cartoonish, a caricature of Betty Boop.

And saving the best for last—listen to Eartha Kitt.

Prepare to be blown away. Her voice just drips sex. No kidding. Even lines that shouldn’t be sexy somehow are. When she asks Santa to “come and trim her … Christmas tree” and then tells him to “hurry down her chimney tonight,” it made my ears burn. This track is all the more amazing since it was done in 1954. How the heck did this song get past the censors? Oh yeah ... she never mentions sex.

All three versions are exactly the same. Exact same music. Exact same lyrics. So how come they’re three totally different songs?

Voice, baby.

So don’t worry about the duplication of titles and ideas. Hold true to your voice, or as Avon editor Lucia Macro says, “Trust your stuff.” That’s what makes you special. That's what makes you new.


At 7:15 PM, Blogger bridget said...

Oh man, you are so right about this! (And BTW, your plot sounds fantastic.) I loved your example--the red-hot Eartha Kitt "Santa Baby" vs. the bland-o-ramas. You nailed it, Jenna Baby.


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