Thursday, March 29, 2012

Writer's Voice - my thoughts

It may sound strange when talking about a "writer's voice" when what writers deal with are words, but it means the sound of the author's story. And defining it is very difficult.

On one level, it is how the writer uses dialogue, diction, punctuation, syntax and character development.

Dialogue – Do your characters talk a lot or are your chapters full of description of action or scenery. My characters talk a lot, so I keep running the risk of having "talking heads".
Punctuation – I love exclamations points and dashes !!!!! But I have learned to cut back on them. I read a book- have forgotten title – where there was little punctuation but many em dashes.
Diction – how do your characters speak - correct grammar vs street kid vs arrogant aristocrat
Syntax – how you follow the rules of grammar and speech. I've been known to bust a few rules. Sometimes I accept the corrections by my critique group and others times I stubbornly refuse.
Character Development – are your stories character driven or plot driven. If the people are more important then their personality must be explored.

I belong to a couple of critique groups and spend many hours editing my peers' work. I'm noticing that I can identify the author by the way it is written. How?

M writes YA and her characters speak "teenager". They can be sarcastic and flippant as teenagers often are. Her stories don't delve into teenage angst so she doesn't explore dark recesses of her characters thoughts, but there are still emotional issues. Her stories are fast paced and with a touch of joy and hope in them.

B has an intense sound. She writers erotic paranormal. Her characters - often the males - are dark and brooding. They usually have troubled/tortured pasts so she can dig deep and express their pain. The pace of B's stories is slower as the "erotic" sections build and ebb or as a character struggles through an emotional turmoil.

What about my voice? I don't know what i sound like, but I have a sense of it. When a cp (critique partner) suggests a change there are moments when my instinct/gut says the change is wrong. The cp's changes are how she would write that line. She can't help doing that - her voice is telling her how I wrote it isn't "correct." You have to learn to trust yourself as a writer to develop your style or else you could end up sounding like the six people who critiqued your work.

How to work on your voice? Write. Write. Write.

Write when you are really angry - steaming mad. Go back a couple of days later and look at what you wrote. Is it full of short sentences? Big words. Lots of exclamation points. Read what you wrote out loud . Do you sound like a pompous aristocrat or an angry drill sergeant.

Write about something that makes you very happy. Describe a kitten playing with a toy mouse. Write a letter to someone you love. And again, go back days later and look at your piece. Check your word choices, the length of your sentences and the number of adjectives. Read this one aloud. How does your physical voice differ than when reading the angry letter.

Now you are beginning to understand what your personal writing voice is.


  1. Great blog! It is tough to discribe a writer's voice and we have to be careful we don't use it to get away with bad grammar etc. But rules are made to be broken sometimes as long as you keep it to a minimum. Writer's voice and breaking the rules are not one and the same. Loved the way you explained it and gave some ideas on exlporing your voice. Awesome!

  2. Very interesting post! I know when I started to write finding my voice was the hardest thing. I think you do take a little bit of each critique with you, until you gain that confidence and your own voice comes into play, telling you to go with something or not....that gut instinct. Sometimes it can take awhile to develop and sometimes it comes shining through right away.

  3. I liked your post a lot. One of the comments I received in a contest was that I have a strong voice and that it can't be taught. One either has it or not. Most of my CPs have strong voices as well and it can be interesting, in a good way, when we critique each other.

  4. Great post! They say voice is one of the most important aspects in writing and sometimes one of the hardest to get down pact.
    Awesome post!

  5. Awesome blog post! I like the examples of writing when angry then happy. It took me a long time to find my voice and lots of denial along the way. Also lots of why can't I write like so and so? It also took time to accept my voice.

  6. Wonderful post and great exercises suggestions to recognize your voice.

  7. Excellent post.
    A writer's voice is very unique and very important.

    It took me a long time to discover my voice, but once I did I was ecstatic.

    Although, I have run across some who mistake breaking certain rules as their writer's voice. It can be a slippery slope, lol.

  8. My first time here, and I'm glad I stopped by. I think voice is something we all need to work on as a continuous exercise.


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