The Writer’s Voice
by Joyce H. Ackley
Voice is the process of putting words together in a way that makes the writer unique. It is the personality of the writer expressed through the written word.
It includes the individual style of the writer, such as vocabulary, dialogue, length of chapters, and descriptions. Sentence structure is one of the components of voice. Maybe you like to write short, spare sentences in the style of Hemingway, or perhaps you favor long, descriptive sentences like those Anne Rivers Siddons writes so beautifully.
Voice is influenced by personal observation of how you view the world. Your beliefs and your passion are reflected in your writing voice.
Some say every writer already has a voice, that it happens all by itself. However, voice can be developed, and it can be sharpened so it is authentic and distinctive.
You may have found your own voice, or you may still be working on it. In either case, here are some ways to facilitate and hone your voice:
Read the genre you love, and read outside of your favorite genres. The more you read, the more you will develop a sense of what works for you and what doesn’t. You’ll discover how stories are put together, how characters are developed, and how stories are paced and plotted. You’ll see how badly written novels fall apart, and you will be able to pinpoint the reasons.
Study the style of your favorite authors. Do not copy their characters or their worlds, or their stories, but spend time reading their work and figuring out what makes it unique.
Practice free writing in journals. Pay no attention to spelling, punctuation, or editing. Just write your story in your own special way, and your voice will emerge.
Free writing is also called stream of consciousness writing. Write what is natural. Don’t force the words; let them flow naturally from your heart and your head.
Write outside your genre. Experiment a little. You may surprise yourself with what you can do if you step outside your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Your voice can vary in different genres. A romance novel wouldn’t be written in the same way a crime novel or a science fiction story would be. A genre that is new to you might be just the perfect one that makes your soul sing as you pen the words.
Author Holly Lisle says, “Nothing you write is wasted.” Whether you use it or not, you will have learned from the experience. You’ll take something away from every piece of writing. And you will be developing your own voice. The more you write, the more your individual style comes to light and becomes consistent.
When you write, give yourself the freedom to say things in your own special way. Your voice should sound natural, using language that comes naturally. If you use words that you have to look up in the dictionary, chances are your reader will have to look those words up, too.
Voice should be authentic, but you can cultivate a style from authors you admire.
Write from passion.
You will never discover your true voice if you don’t care about the things you’re writing about. According to Holly Lisle, your voice does not exist when you’re trying to write a book in a genre you hate because you think it will be an easy way to make a quick buck.
Love your writing. Love your failures, even, for you learn from them. Love yourself for having courage to keep going in spite of failure. Love your successes, and every little triumph, every promise that points toward an eventual success.
Writer Cris Freese maintains, “To set your voice free, set your words free. Set your characters free. Most important, set your heart free.”
Embrace your writing voice, for you are one-of-a-kind.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Do you think you have developed your own writing voice, or are you still in the process of developing an authentic voice?
- Do you write in more than one genre? If so, does one style come easier? Does it feel more natural for you?
- Is your writing style and voice similar to that of an author you admire? If not, can you name an author you’d love to emulate?
Some Timely Writing Quotes
“Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.” Ray Bradbury
“A good style should show no signs of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident.” W. Somerset Maugham
“The best way to develop your writer’s voice is to read a lot. And write a lot. There’s really no other way to do it.” Stephen King