No, I don’t mean your singing voice, although, hey, it’s the holidays–if you wanna sing Christmas carols, own it, baby!
No, I’m talking about your writing voice.
I’ve picked up a crapton of books this year, both print and audio, and put them down within a chapter or less. Why?
Because they had no voice.
There was nothing technically wrong with the stories (that I’d found yet), but the voice either felt stilted or simply not engaging. And that’s a problem. One I’ve seen far too much among published and non published writers alike. Now I may be a lot more picky than the average reader (I think most writers are), but one of the things that is imperative (IMO) to a book’s success is the author’s voice. The plot itself might be the 7 millionth derivation of some common trope, but the thing that will make it unique is the author’s voice.
When I open a book, I expect to hear it. I want to be engaged and entertained or at the very least not annoyed by prose that sounds like a 10th grade book report.
One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever got (thank you Mrs. Key, my 8th grade English teacher), is to write like I talk. I’ve never forgotten that. It means that I often break technical rules of writing. Because people don’t speak in that stilted formal style that’s expected in school assignments or scientific journal articles. Obviously you edit out for things like ums and ers, but you absolutely should write like you talk. My voice, according to editorial comments, is incredibly commercial.
Go pick a passage of a favorite book and read it aloud. Chances are it reads easily and you’re pulled in because of voice.
Now go pick up a section of your latest WIP and do the same thing. Did you stumble? Did the words feel stilted or weird? Or did they read like a conversation? As if you were sitting there telling the story to a buddy?
The tried and true method most writers use for learning voice is to read a TON and mimic (intentionally or not) the voices of writers we love. Do this enough and eventually you’ll develop your own voice. I don’t really think there’s any substitution for this step. You MUST read a lot of great fiction to internalize how to write it. If you’re a newbie writer and you haven’t read a lot, make reading part of your craft learning experience. Pick favorite works and see if you can tease apart what makes that voice unique–the word choice, the flavor. And see if you can figure out how to infuse those characteristics in your own work.
And if you want some additional study on the topic, I found a couple of titles on Amazon that look promising. First, Les Edgerton’s Finding Your Voice: How To Put Personality In Your Writing. And Finding Your Writer’s Voice by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall. I can’t speak to the quality of these books, though I’ve read other craft books by Edgerton and found his voice (ironically) to be very engaging and funny.
When I started writing fiction, I had a hard time losing the formal tone of the many book reports, essays, etc. that I wrote in school. One of the biggest things I had to get over was my lack of contraction usage and overuse of “that”. It gets easier and easier to find that comfortable voice the more you write. And you’re right, it’s so important to read a LOT. My problem is, my reading tastes are so eclectic, I wonder if my voice gets jumbled. LOL
Great advice, and soooo true!
Awesome 🙂 thank you for sharing!
Kate, I so agree with you. I’ve put more books down since I’ve started writing, than I’ve finished. In fact, I keep going back to those old favorites with unique voices more often than downloading something from Amazon, unless i have a great recommendation. Finding our own voice is so important. Thanks for sharing.
Les Edgerton’s book literally cracked my brain open and let my 12 your old protagonist’s voice flow. I am now reading Hooked, which also led to great changes for my opening pages.