First, what exactly is ‘voice’?
Novice writers sometimes worry about ‘voice’ and what it means. Voice is the word we use to describe a style of writing that is distinct and individual from everyone else. It describes how you write, the descriptions you use, the words you choose to express yourself, the structure and pattern of your sentences and paragraphs, the characterisations and how your characters express themselves, and the overall style of your story that defines your voice.
Think about how you talk. Your voice has pitch, emotion, subtlety, variation, accent, tone and so on. Your writing voice isn’t that different to these elements.
New writers also have a tendency to become frustrated by not having that voice to begin with. They can be impatient, little realising that voice doesn’t appear overnight. That is because they have not yet developed their own style. Writing is like any new skill that we learn. The more you write, the more your style and voice becomes apparent. If you are a new writer, you have to be patient and let your voice come through naturally. Don’t be tempted to force it – the end result could end up resembling something a primary school student would come up with – in other words, you won’t have any voice to speak of.
Also, many writers worry they won’t be ‘original’. There is a preconception that writers have to be original to be successful, mostly because agents and publishers demand ‘originality’, but can you actually define originality? No. They can’t either. The fact that you have a writing style makes you original because what you produce will be unlike any other writer. Every writer is different and therefore naturally original. It’s that simple.
Also, don’t make the mistake of giving your characters your personality – this only starves the style process. In-depth characterisation is what makes your characters distinct, not your ego. Your characters are not you.
Don’t try to write like famous writers either, thinking that by copying them that you’ll be snapped up by an agent or publisher in no time, because you won’t. Writing like someone else means you’re not writing as YOU and you’ll never succeed by doing this.
Your style and voice is what counts and that is what makes your writing distinct.
How do I to develop my writing voice?
When I started writing in my teens I worried about finding voice, how my writing wouldn’t sound the same as any other writers and how I could be distinguished from thousands of others, but I gradually realised as I worked on my stories that a style started to emerge. That didn’t happen until my late twenties, so you can see how long the process took. The key is to be patient.
To start with, write as much as possible. With each story you write, you gain a little more experience of the writing process, you learn about characterisation, building plot, raising obstacles, creating conflict and tension and giving the reader a satisfactory ending. The more writing you do, the more proficient you will become and from this ongoing process, your style of writing will emerge naturally.
Read your drafts. Read several times to understand the depth of what you have written. Also, read them aloud to get an idea how your writing actually ‘sounds.’ You will start to notice the subtle nuances of your writing, the ‘sound’ of your writing. This is the emergence of your writing ‘voice’. It might be you have a flowery or lavish style, or poetic style. You might find that your writing is abrupt and to the point. Whichever it is, this is who you are as a writer and you continue to develop it.
How will I know when I have a writing voice?
Every writer has pondered this. Finding your writing voice or style isn’t a quick process. It can take many years before it starts to emerge. It doesn’t pop out at an opportune moment, but rather develops with you as you write. The way to recognise your style is to always read what you have written, improve your writing and write as much as you can – short stories, flash fiction, poems, novels – the more you do, the more you learn. With each story you write, your style and voice will become more apparent.
What will also become apparent over time is that when you write something that seems such a comfortable process (instead of a torturous slog), then you know your style has bloomed, thus allowing you to write seamlessly and with such passion that you just have to keep going. Your style and voice have matured and you’ve gelled with who you are as a writer. This will happen. Just be patient.
When your writing style or voice does emerge, capitalise on it, affirm it and strengthen your writing with more writing, after all, your writing voice and your style defines who you are as a writer, and in a sense it’s an important aspect of writing. As already stated, don’t worry about trying to be original or different, because your style will do that for you. Just concentrate on as much writing as you can.
I know one up and coming young writer who is only sixteen. She is already published (short stories), and is working on a novel. In a year or two, she will have found a distinct voice and style of her own to tackle such projects with confidence.
So, to summarise:
• Be patient
• Write as much as you can
• Read all your work
• Read it aloud to ‘hear’ how your writing sounds
• Improve and develop your writing
• Never copy other writing styles
• Don’t transplant your personality into your characters. Each one should be individual and different from one another.
Above all, remember that writers are individual, and so is their writing. Finding voice is like learning to ride a bike – it will come to you eventually.
Next time: How to avoid too much use of the word ‘was’ in narrative.