This process is normal. It’s also normal for the final books – particularly if the author was ill or very old – to meander or fail to “close” satisfactorily.
Of course, if you are the author, this can be a little more difficult to detect. After all, everything looks different from the inside.
So, how do you remove the muffling layers, and write in full volume and with full emotion?
I don’t know.
After 23 books published (and about 8 unpublished), I’ve learned enough that I can usually tell when I’m hitting full voice. Note the weasel word “usually.” Most of the time I know when the voice is doing what it’s supposed to do and hitting the right points to draw the reader right in. However, sometimes I’ll think it’s all wrong till I give it to one of my first readers, or else read it at a con. Every once in a while, the reaction to that “all wrong” book convinces me it’s in fact “all right.”
That mistake is more common in beginners. Kristine Kathryn Rusch once told me if you’re new to this and your voice seems bland and blah and is just sort of there, that means you’re writing in your full voice. Because it’s so normal to you, you don’t realize when you hit it.
This is why, if you’re struggling with a beginning, I recommend letting someone else have a look. They can see what you can’t. You can’t come at your own prose totally fresh. It’s just not possible.
But what if you’re struggling and you still can’t hit the right voice, and your readers confirm that “It’s okay but—” (which is normally how first readers explain “the voice isn’t quite right”)?
I am stuck there right now with Through Fire. I was trying to explain it to a friend, how it felt. “Imagine you’re trying to copy a classical sculpture – say the Venus de Milo. You know exactly what you’re aiming for, and you’ll know when you get there. But unfortunately the material you’re trying to use is melted cheese, and your only tool is a nail file.”
This metaphor works, because I know what “full voice” is supposed to sound like, I just don’t know how to build it with the materials at hand. It seems like I make a promising beginning, but the whole thing crumbles before I can shape it with the nail file. (This metaphor also allows you to say stuff like “I was stuck in the cheese again, today” at the kitchen table to confuse and amaze your family.)