The Chick Lit Voice

~ By Lois Winston

Having recently judged the Louboutin Award for the Stiletto contest, I was asked by Chris Bailey if I’d blog about “voice.” Chris posed the following three questions.

1. What constitutes a chick lit voice?

For me, a chick lit voice is about attitude. The chick lit voice is when an author imbues her characters with a certain way of looking at life, responding to situations, and interacting with the other characters who populate the book. The main character usually has an edge about her. She’s often snarky and has a habit of speaking her mind, which can even make her somewhat politically incorrect.

This is why you generally see the chick lit voice in books that take place in cosmopolitan settings. Unless the author is writing a “fish out of water” plot, a chick lit voice generally doesn’t work all that well in a small town setting. Let’s face it, unless we’re talking Stephen King type small towns, reader expectation is that the people who populate small towns are generally of a decidedly un-chick lit disposition.

2. I thought it was interesting that you chose a YA finalist. Would you say that a chick lit voice drifts toward YA? Or cozy?

The plot of the book I chose as the winner was such that it lent itself to a chick lit voice. There are YA books where a chick lit voice wouldn’t work at all. The voice an author chooses to write in should correspond to the story she wants to tell. The story and the voice go hand in hand, or they should. It’s kind of the square peg/round hole conundrum. You can’t force a writer’s voice into a story not suited for that voice. It doesn’t work.

The thing about the chick lit voice, though, is that it transcends the stereotypical chick lit plot. A chick lit voice isn’t relegated to stories about a twenty-something in a dead-end job, with a shoe addiction and a string of loser boyfriends. Those plots won’t be coming back to publishing any time soon. So if you have a chick lit voice, you need to find other plots that work with your voice.

Voice is something an author either has or doesn’t have. If you’re lucky, you can developed voice over time, but voice can’t be taught. It’s like me and the violin. I took lessons for years. I could play all the right notes. But no matter how many hours I practiced, I was never going to get to Carnegie Hall other than to sit in the audience.

I can’t give you a list of rules to follow that will develop a voice if you don’t yet have one. No one can. Some authors are lucky enough to be able to write in several different voices, but most only have one voice. To be successful, the author has to tell the type of stories that work for her voice.

Getting back to the Louboutin winner, my choice was not only based on her voice but on the originality of her plot and her skill as a writer.

As for cozies, I don’t think a chick lit voice would ever work well in the traditional cozy mystery. A true cozy takes place in a small town or village and never uses foul language. Think Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher. Would readers want either of them to have a chick lit voice? No. Readers have certain expectations when they pick up a cozy mystery, and a chick lit voice isn’t one of those expectations.

Where the chick lit voice does work, though, is in the amateur sleuth mystery, and that’s what I write. Even though my publisher categorizes the books as cozies (explaining to me that cozy is becoming more of an umbrella term,) my books really aren’t cozies. For one thing, my characters use language appropriate to who they are. The loan shark in Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun isn’t going to say, “Oh gosh darn!” He’s Mafia; he’s going to drop the occasional F-bomb.

3. How did you know when you’d found your voice?

I started out writing angst-ridden romantic suspense. When I discovered chick lit, I decided to try writing one. The voice that emerged was completely different from the voice I’d been writing in for my romantic suspense books. It felt more natural to me, much more comfortable. I also discovered that I enjoyed writing in first person, something I never would have tried in a romantic suspense.

When, at my agent’s urging, I tried my hand at writing a mystery, this new voice I’d discovered I had meshed perfectly with the amateur sleuth mystery I chose to write. In this case, though, my protagonist is forty-two years old, so the book contains more of a mom lit/hen lit voice than a chick lit voice. But you know what they say: forty is the new twenty, and fifty is the new thirty. Besides, chick lit is all about attitude, not age.

Lois Winston is both an agent with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency and the author of the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist and was recently nominated for a Readers Choice Award by the Salt Lake City Library System. The new year brings with it the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series. Visit Lois at her website: http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. You can also follow Lois and Anastasia on Twitter @anasleuth.

Lois is currently on a month-long blog tour where she’s giving away five signed copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll. To enter the drawing, post a comment to this blog or any of the others on the tour. You can find the complete schedule at her website and Anastasia’s blog. In addition, she’s giving away 3 copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll on Goodreads, http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/15173-death-by-killer-mop-doll

9 thoughts on “The Chick Lit Voice”

  1. Jane, you make a good point. Sometimes the reader’s mood has a lot of sway on whether or not she bonds with a book. There’s a certain multi-pubbed author everyone knows who I just couldn’t get into when I first tried to read her books. A few years later I gave them a try again because everyone kept raving about them. This time I fell in love, and I’m first in line whenever she has a new release.

  2. So true! Just never thought about it in those terms before. And, there are some books that have appealed to me plot-wise, but I just couldn’t enjoy. The voice was most likely the reason. The voice might also be the reason that a book might not appeal to me because I’m just not in the mood. Later, it will become a new favorite.

  3. Jane, if you keep voice in mind as you’re reading, you’ll find that each author has a unique one, and it’s that voice that usual determines whether a reader likes the book or not.

  4. This is a very interesting post. I’ve never really taken the time to think about the ‘voice’. But, you’ve described a chick lit voice quite well and it most definitely wouldn’t fit in with a traditional cozy mystery. Thanks for the insight.

  5. Jodelle Brohard

    I loved this blog post about voice. I’m not sure exactly where my own writing voice fits, but I think I may be most at home writing chick lit. Thanks for the information.

  6. Hi, Lois. Great post. I completely agree when you say an author needs to write stories that suit their voice… I seem to instinctively stay away from some particular genres because they just don’t feel right for me as the story teller x

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