It’s time once again for my contribution to Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group, where bloggers weigh in on issues relating to writing – problems or advice on how to improve your writing. If you’re interested in being a part of this select group, go here to join. This month I’d like to talk about voice in writing.
One of the most difficult things for beginning writers of fiction – or any other type of writing for that matter – is finding their unique voice. Writing guides and advice books pour out reams of advice on this aspect of writing. The problem is that most never clearly define what they mean by voice.
After decades of pounding out millions of words, I must confess that I remain in something of a fog myself on this problematic aspect of the writing craft – or art, depending upon your point of view.
My fog, though, is not so dense that I don’t have a vague idea of what is meant by voice in fiction, so I’ll add to the pool of thought on the issue.
Looking at my own writing over time, I’ve come to realize that any work of fiction has multiple voices. First, there’s the individual writer’s voice; the unique way a writer expresses him or herself. It is the author’s style or unique way of expressing personality, character or attitude. It is shown in the choice of words, how sentences or paragraphs are structured that conveys that individual’s uniqueness.
Of equal importance is the voice of the characters in the story. It is the speech and thought patterns, or persona, of a first-person narrator, or the speech patterns and mannerisms of characters in third-person POV. Careful selection and differentiation of speech patterns of characters makes it easier for readers to identify individual characters even in the absence of tags or descriptions, which can help the flow of your writing.
Finding Your Voices
The best way to find your own voice in your writing is to let it find you. Know your story and where you want it to go – what impression you want it to make on a reader, and then write the words you hear in your mind as you mentally map out the story. What word selections or sentence structures do you find natural when you write? Let them flow and your voice will emerge. What do you want your reader to feel or think about your writing? Select the words and sentences that convey that. That is you communicating to your reader in your unique voice.
As for character voices, what image of the character do you want the reader to have? Chose words and mannerisms that convey that image, being careful not to have every character act or speak in the same way. Presto! Your character’s voice will emerge, and the character will come alive for the reader.
You’ll notice I haven’t made any specific suggestions – short versus long sentences, long versus short paragraphs, colorful metaphors, etc. For your own voice, pick the ones that are you, and for your characters, pick the ones that convey the image you want the reader to have.
Finding an appropriate voice in writing is like learning to ride a bike. You keep getting back up and pedaling every time you fall down, and one day you’ll discover that you’re no longer falling.
You will have found that elusive voice.