Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How to Staunch Voice Bleeding

by Mindy McGinnis

I've coined a new term that some of my fellow writers have latched onto - voice bleeding. It exists. It's a nasty little burrowing virus that will slide inside your brain and infect the gray matter with the voice of whatever writer you may be reading at the time. The voice bleeding virus thrives on creative minds, reducing us to a toxic replica of whoever we happen to be reading at the moment, especially if they hail from the same genre as our own.

How do you combat this virus? Is it something you will never be free of, like herpes? Is this a long-term infection requiring dose after dose of antibiotics? Should you lie quivering in fear under your blanket whenever a tasty looking bit of fiction tempts you?

Don't worry, my friends. There is an answer.

You CAN read while you're writing. You CAN free yourself from the scourge of voice bleeding. You CAN indulge in some published pages while whaling on the WIP.

It's called non-fiction.

Now don't get me wrong, non-fiction requires voice as well. But the chances of a well-styled narrative NF voice sliding into your YA paranormal are significantly less than if your brain is munching on the latest urban fantasy beach candy.

I hear your cries of pain. But non-fiction!!! It's so.... true. And... boring!!

Not so my friends. Hit up some of these titles if you want to learn more about why we're alive, what happens when you're not, and how to avoid people, places and diseases that might make you that way:

WATER: THE EPIC STRUGGLE FOR WEALTH, POWER & CIVILIZATION by Steven Solomon - So you're aware that we need water, but do you know the ins and outs of the political maneuvering, wars, and untold deaths of millions that is intertwined with the story of water? Prolly not.

STIFF by Mary Roach - You're dead! Great - now what? You'd be surprised how many options you've got. Mary Roach explores the myriad of choices your corpse has. Me? I'm going with composting.

THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larsen - Wanna know more about America's first serial killer, and how he used the World's Fair to his advantage? Sure you do.

THE BEAUTIFUL CIGAR GIRL by Daniel Stashower - Mary Roger's murder in 1841 was the first instance of a media frenzy, and it had the makings of a blockbuster. A renowned cigar-peddling beauty with a checkered past winds up dead... and nobody knows who did it. The murder got under the skin of New Yorkers, including one troubled genius named Edgar Allan Poe, who was inspired to write "The Mystery of Marie Roget."

THE LOST CITY OF Z by David Grann - A mysterious city in the jungle, explorers disappearing into thin air, obsession and madness. You're interested, right?

THE SPECKLED MONSTER by Jennifer Lee Carrell - Read this history of smallpox and the people who willingly infected themselves with it in order to create a vaccine and you'll never be more thankful for the CDC.

And while I'm sharing, there's currently a voice bleeding related post over on my personal blog, along with a giveaway!

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut dystopian, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins Fall, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. So true. I read memoirs when I need to turn off that voice. And hey--I can trick myself into believing it's research. Which, of course, it is.

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  3. I know! Sometimes I worry about this, but sometimes I'll read something just to get into the rhythm that I want to put to the page. One of the reasons I love poetry is that it gets the voice primed. So I do think it can work both ways. Some voices you just don't want in your head. You want your characters there, but not necessarily Shakespeare. Other times you want a little bit of the old bard. Just a teeny bit.

  4. I've actually never had a problem with voice bleeding. I think in part because I know what my voice is an author. What I'm actually trying to do more of is write a bit beyond my voice. I feel like I'm sticking to a comfort zone too much. And that I could become predictable.

  5. Barbara - love the idea of tricking yourself!

    Priscille - Poetry... hadn't thought of that.

    EB - That's an interesting take. I hadn't thought of that - using someone else's voice to push you out of one you've overused. Great comment!