Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Discovering Your Voice

Guest blogger: Lynn Raye Harris

You’ve decided to write a romance novel. Or maybe you’ve been writing romance and you’re contemplating a switch in subgenre. You’ve been writing about vampires and want to write a hot historical. Or the hot historical is turning into gritty romantic suspense. Maybe you’re confused and unsure what to write.

How do you know where you belong, where your voice is a natural fit? I don’t have the one-size fits all answer to that, but I’ve learned some things about genre and voice recently that I’d like to share.

But first we have to go back to the beginning. My first romance manuscript was a whopping medieval tome. How did I arrive in the Middle Ages? I think it was the armor. ;)

Seriously, I love history and I was reading widely about British history when this particular time period caught my eye. I became very interested in Edward I and his battle to conquer Wales. A book (a terrible, huge, meandering book) was born.

Next came a Regency historical. The clothes! The manners! The hot dukes and cheeky maidens! After that foray, a time-travel medieval novella was in order. Ahem. Are you getting the picture here? I had no clue what I was doing and wrote whatever sparked my fancy at the moment.

Next, I tried a single-title contemporary. I was finally starting to figure something out – my life revolved around the military and I was very well equipped to write a military hero. Naturally, since my husband was in the Air Force, I chose to write about a Navy guy – something about which I knew nothing at all. :/

Okay, I was getting there, but not quite.

Finally, finally, I realized something. I love romantic suspense. I love military Special Forces teams. I gobbled up these kinds of books, the ones with teams (military or not) and danger. Duh.

This time when I sat down, I tried a military romantic suspense. And my voice blossomed. I finally felt at home with what I was writing. I loved opening this story every day and seeing what happened next. I’m on the third set of revisions, but this manuscript is HOT PURSUIT, my Golden Heart ® Finalist.

This is where I should say goodbye and thanks for having me, right? I found my genre through trial and error and now I’m home.

But wait, I’m not done. Nothing says you aren’t equipped to write in more than one genre, or that your voice isn’t adaptable somewhere you might not have ever considered.

When I was growing up, I read Harlequin Presents by the cartload. I still read them, though not exclusively. I love the Presents alpha male and his glittering, wealthy, international world. I love those heroines who are frequently at a disadvantage with this guy but who still manage to conquer his heart.

So when Harlequin Mills & Boon announced they were looking for new writers and were having a first chapter contest, I decided Why not? I wrote one chapter and a two-page synopsis and sent it off. Then I wrote another one.

On March 20, 2008, at around 1PM Central Time (not that I remember or anything), my cell phone rang. Sally Williamson from Harlequin was calling to tell me that one of my entries (the second one I wrote), THE SPANISH MAGNATE’S REVENGE, was chosen by the editorial team as the winner. I would now be working with Sally to finish my book for the Presents line.

Was I shocked? Oh yeah. And happier than you can believe. I feel like I got The Call but without the contract or check. Apparently, my voice is also very well suited to writing about wealthy alpha heroes and the women who conquer them. Not surprising, really, when I took the time to think about it. Whether he’s a military operative or a Spanish billionaire, my heroes are strong alpha males. At their core, they are hard, protective, thrilling men who would do anything for the women they love.

Maybe that’s the key. You need to figure out who your characters are, what thread they have in common, and then you’ll find your voice and your genre. If you’re writing something that seems forced, or wanting a change, think about your characters and their core beliefs.

In truth, I think voice is more important than genre. I think, if you know your characters and who they are, what they believe, and what they want, the world you set them down in becomes secondary.

But that’s just me, and I know not everyone agrees. Do I seem to be contradicting myself? After all, I tried a medieval, a Regency, a time-travel, and a contemporary before finding a natural fit in romantic suspense and classic romance. But I think if I went back today, knowing my voice now, and tried those other genres, I’d either get it right immediately or realize it didn’t work and move on.

Yeah, so this post is clear as mud, right? Just like figuring out which genre to write in. Write often, try new things, know your characters, and don’t be surprised if you find your home somewhere you never considered before. Happy writing!

Reader Questions:

Where have your genre experiments led you?

Did you find your voice somewhere you least expected it?

If you're happy with what you're writing, how did you arrive there? Trial and error, or you just knew where you fit?

Is there a genre you'd like to try but aren't sure if you can do it?

Lynn Raye Harris writes steamy suspense and classic romance. After a lifetime of military moves, she lives in Northern Alabama with two spoiled cats and one spoiled husband. She blogs semi-regularly at Her website, which doesn’t yet reflect her dual writing personality, is at


  1. Hey Lynn... You did really well writing about B-40 girls too. LOL

    I have been a fan now for not quite ten years. :-)


  2. voice is well suited for sarcastic, strong heroines with a sense of humor and a wide streak of loyalty.

    Huh. Go figure. ;)

    I've surprised myself that I'm also well suited to writing elements of horror into my novels.

    If you say "go figure" on that one, I may have to hurt you.


    I had to experiment with genres and characters to find my voice and right now, I'm loving first person because I can do so much with the voice.

    I could honestly land in any genre, I think, as long as I remained true to the heroine's voice and made sure to kill off at least five characters.

    Yeah, yeah...go figure.

  3. Hi Lynn and C.J.!

    Funny you should ask, because I always assumed I would write historical. Those were the first romances I read as a teen, and I still love to escape into a good historical.

    Then I sat down to write my first book. I didn't have a plot yet, so I decided to follow that old rule "write what you know" and I decided to write a contemporary mystery set at an archaeological site. Now I couldn't imagine writing anything else.

  4. As someone who got pulled from the slush on her voice, I'm a believer! Now, my voice sounds like me. Ask anyone who's read my stuff and listened to me talk. It's me--just with witter comebacks and better grammar!

    Don't try to be what you're not--it'll show! Write what you love to read, but it's got to be you as well. I love a big, meaty historical, but there's no way my voice would ever fit--even if I wasn't too lazy to do the research.

  5. Hey, Cyn! Yes, the B-40 ladies. That was a fun story, but I can see now how the voice was me. It was a suspenseful story -- who's the killer, etc. Probably my first suspense, though it was a short story. I should have realized when it came so naturally where I fit. Took me another complete novel to figure it out though. :)

    Thanks for the compliment. :)

  6. CJ, your first chapter ROCKS! I love that character. Yep, remain true to character -- I think that's the key. :)

    Thanks for having me! I'm a day late commenting, sorry, but the inlaws arrived. *sigh*

  7. Hi, Rachel! Isn't it funny how you didn't end up where you thought? You wrote to your strengths, what you know, and the result sounds absolutely fascinating. I can't wait to read it someday! Thanks for commenting. :)

  8. PC, knowing you and not yet having read your writing, I feel like I know exactly what the story will read like anyway. Because I know your voice from who you are. And I know it's going to be funny and awesome. Can't wait to read it!!

  9. I tried to write a historical but discovered that I got hung up on the idioms and the research.

    Then I tried straight contemporary and bored myself to tears halfway through.

    I think I want to try something that combines my experience with living in the country and either suspense or paranormal. Lots of wierd things happen in small towns and I've lived in nothing but small towns so maybe I can capitalize on that.

  10. I thought I'd write sci-fi or fanatasy, since that's what I read growing up.

    Instead, I found my voice when I started writing murder mysteries on a dare.

    No one was more surprised than me.

  11. Hi, Mayberry Tuesday! Yep, weird things happen in small towns, that's for sure. I think you have a wealth of ideas at your fingertips there! Small towns can be quirky too, so combining that quirk with something else might just be what you're looking for. :)

    Hmm, interesting, Casey! I went through a period before I started writing where I loooooved big whopping fantasy tomes. But I knew I could never write one. All that world-building! I don't know how those writers have the patience. :)


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