Tag Archives: Voice

How did you develop your writing voice?

If you are like me, you read a mix of novels, magazine and online articles, essays, blogs, and informational books on a rolling basis. Did you ever wonder why one writer goes for puns, another for gravity, a third for elegance, a fourth for gothic imagery, and so on? Do you consider how these writing voices compare to your style?

A Poet Without Tea

A Poet Without Tea

My fiction writing is characterized by short paragraphs and minimal detail. I rarely describe my characters’ appearance, unless doing so hints at their motivations. I tend to avoid backstory and instead leave clues through dialog. I’m not making an effort in that direction. It just comes out that way.

Some reasons I do this become obvious when I think about them. One, I don’t like tangential writing. Please don’t ever lend me a novel that stops the story for a chapter to describe how a boat engine works or to offer specs on popular wood lathes of the 1970s. I guarantee I will close it right there and give it back to you. Life is too short, and I’m not that polite.

You are surely aware of a certain famous, acclaimed, epic saga about an organized crime family, which was made into what many, including me, consider to be amongst the greatest films of all time. Unfortunately, I can’t get past page 50 of the book for all the relentless tangents. I’m sure the critics know more about great literature than I do, so I’ll just call myself a Philistine and move on.

I also despise excessive detail. I tried to get into a popular contemporary mystery series, but the author can’t resist grinding the story down to explain what each red-herring suspect has in his garden. Look, he’s either got flowers in there or vegetables. Unless I really need to know because the body of a Classical Studies major is buried under the zinnias, spare me the Latin names.

Not surprisingly, I’m inevitably influenced by writers I admire, and I tend to enjoy writers who get to the point (Elmore Leonard) and writers who have a dark wit (Poe). Peruse my story links under the Fiction tab above to witness some dovetailing.

My other influences are less apparent. I sometimes read novels and then watch the resultant film version, and I marvel how the screenwriters can tell the same story with only about 10% of the events making it to the screen. Harkening back to my public relations courses in college, during which the phrase “less is more” was branded onto my forehead, I am probably brainwashed to be a fiction minimalist.

And last, since I gravitate toward writers who are brisk and direct, I tend to seek writing instruction that is brisk and direct. Brisk and direct writing instructors tell you that exposition, even one word of it, is FOR PATHETIC LOSERS. You gotta find a way to tell the story without using exposition, they say. Leave clues through action and dialog. The circle is now complete!

My intent as a writer is to keep the story moving at a fast pace, make my characters interesting and colorful, and keep my reader hooked. My writing voice is a byproduct of that, not a means to an end.

So from whence does your writing voice derive? Have you thought about it? If your answer is too involved for the comments section below, why not blog it and let me know? I can post a link next time! Poets absolutely welcome. I may learn something yet.

While you are thinking about it, enjoy “Voices Carry” by ‘Til Tuesday, the first song I could think of with “voice” in the title. Sorry if they jam you with an advertisement first, and double sorry about the guy’s acting in the beginning. Yikes. Did they pay him?

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Finding Your Writing Voice

A message from me: Today I join the already swollen ranks of those who dispense writing advice in the blogosphere. If, through my sage words, you become a bestselling author, you owe me money and will be hearing from my lawyer.

 

Begin…

 

Writers often hear the word “voice” used to describe one’s writing style, but those new to the craft may wonder what that means and where to get one. The wonderful news is that you already have a writing voice! You just have to move some junk out of the way to find it. Like Michelangelo freeing his figures from their marble prisons, the writer has to free her voice.

 

I continue to get at my writing voice four ways, and I think they will work for you. The obvious, ongoing method is practice. Write. Write. Write. I know everyone says that, but they also say, “Don’t run with a knife in your hand.” That is never bad advice, and neither is write, write, write, because you will master the mechanics of writing and allow your voice to show through. Like playing guitar or building life-sized Star Wars vehicles out of Lego bricks, you inevitably get better by doing (though one of these will get you laid and the other typically has the opposite effect). 

 

 

Another facet of finding your voice (besides avoiding weak metaphors like that one) is to be Zen. Since I am too wired to be Zen, I just try to relax. In my days as a performing musician, my best shows happened when I was relaxed, centered, and in the moment. I did not think about what song was next, or who was in the crowd, or the difficult passage I was about to play. In other words, try not to think. Find your inner Malcolm Gladwell and go with your gut.

 

Your gut is where your writing voice is hanging out most of the time. 

 

You also need an editor who knows writing. Maybe the idea of someone rooting around in your gut is unsettling, but you need that person who is willing to say, “This ending sucks,” or “This section belongs in a different story.” I have more than one editor, and my pieces are always better for their suggestions and insults, especially in regard to tonal consistency. A crucial component of “voice” is maintaining the right tone. Michelangelo didn’t give his David a clown nose, did he?

 

As you seek an editor, note that your mother is not a candidate. My mom is a great proofreader, but she’ll never criticize my work, and it usually needs criticism. On this point, I encourage you to edit a fellow writer’s work as well. You may recognize some of the mistakes you are making but have not been able to see.

 

My last suggestion, particularly for new writers, is to avoid trying to sound “writerly.” If you have not yet hammered out the mechanics of composition, keep it simple until you do. If you have to write, “My hamster and I went to the pet store to buy a miniature badminton set for the rodent beach party,” say it just like that. Steinbeck would not have written, “It was thereupon decided that we were to travel to the pet store, from which a miniature badminton set was to be purchased, thus enlivening the rodent beach party.” And neither should you.

 

I edit for a living, and, in doing so, I’ve seen a person’s death described as “his deathly demise,” and I frequently come across constructions like, “he was a person who showed a friendly personality,” instead of, “he seemed friendly.” Avoid affectation. If you read it aloud and it sounds clunky or awkward, it is. When words come naturally, you are using your voice.

 

If you have other ideas for finding the writer’s voice or can improve upon my suggestions, leave a comment.

 

Ciao,

 

EJB