DEVELOPING YOUR WRITER’S VOICE
Voice in fiction is often talked about as a mysterious component of craft. I have even heard people say, “It can’t be taught.” But developing your writer’s voice is not an impossible dream.
CLASSIC WRITER’S VOICE
When we read the classics in school, teachers would go on and on about voice and how you could always tell Hemingway from Faulkner from Joyce from Lawrence. (Sadly, during my studies, they left out all of the amazing women’s voices from these discussions.)
What they were referring to was how these writers used sentence structure and diction, the way the author’s thoughts were placed on the page, their method of conveying the thoughts and images that made up the stories they told, as well as the kinds of stories they told, and the worldview that their stories expounded on. The resulted in what was a distinct voice in every work produced by each author.
I will note that these writers, at the time they were writing, were raising their voices in a chorus that had a lot fewer voices. The reality is that it is more difficult now to read a never-before-seen page of prose by a contemporary writer, despite being one whose work we are deeply familiar with, and name that writer with 100% accuracy every time. Hemingway was concise. Faulkner was, in short, longwinded. Their voices fell at opposite ends of the spectrum. But there many voices in the world and one must have a very good “ear” to readily tell them apart. But voice still matters.
WHY VOICE MATTERS
Many readers read as much for voice as for the story an author tells. This is true not only for literary fiction, but for genre fiction.
To be clear, not all readers are aware that they are choosing authors based on voice, but readers are drawn to prose that appeals to their particular preferences. Voice is like flavor. You like chocolate (or vanilla, or mint, or strawberry) ice cream because you do. Voice is like that. Some readers prefer prose that is tight, concise and conveys ideas in an economical and understated manner. Others live for deeply emotional or highly detailed descriptive narratives. And with voice, there are multitudes of iterations to choose from.
We hear all the time that agents and editors are looking for a “fresh voice.” But what does that mean for writers? How can a writer seeking to stake a claim in the publishing realm write with a “fresh” voice? Don’t we only have the voice we were born with? Well, you can train your voice. There are tons of singers, including some of the most famous who have availed themselves of the support of voice coaches. Barbara Streisand, Katy Perry, Lada Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Rhianna, Britney Spears, just to name a few. It’s possible to develop and train your writer’s voice, as well!
DEVELOPING YOUR WRITER’S VOICE
Voice can be elusive and subtle and even tricky to pin down. But the reality is that there are ways to develop and train your writing voice.
Here are some key elements that make up voice and questions to ask yourself:
- Level and Type of Detail:
- How much description do you provide the reader?
- Is your prose on the spare side, or do you How do you balance sensory details with physical details?
- Emotional Depth:
- How much of the character’s emotion is on the page?
- How much character interiority do you provide and in what manner?
- Are we right inside their heads?
- Or do we need to take our cues from snippets of how they view the world?
- Sentence Structure/Length:
- Are your sentences shorty and punchy or longer and more relaxed?
- Do you love the semicolon or eschew it?
- Word Choice:
- Do you use concise language or do you skew more poetic?
- Are your similes grounded in physicality?
- Do you love alliteration and creative use of language?
- Do you allow your characters to develop their own words for things?
These choices are what help you to develop and train your distinct writing voice.
EXERCISING YOUR WRITER’S VOICE
Your writing voice is also changeable. Just like singers, writers have varying ranges of voice. In fact, if you are a writer who writes across genres, you will need to exercise your range in creative ways. The voice in my MG portal fantasy series The Nelig Stones & Return to Anoria (Pre-teen) is very different than the voice in my YA fantasy book, Collars & Curses (Teen snark, anyone?). And the voice of my newest book, Lostuns Found (out soon!) is completely different than any of my others, including the Chronicles of Tavara Tinker series (Adult), though both have Steampunk elements.
That’s the glory of writing. Especially with genre fiction.
Your range isn’t governed or constrained by your vocal chords, only by your mind, your imagination, and your writing craft. You can slip into character and voice like an actor taking on a role. It’s actually one of my favorite things about writing speculative fiction and KidLit!
If you are struggling with developing your writer’s voice, or any other aspect of writing your book, consider hiring a Book Coach. Just like a voice coach for singers, a book coach can help you hit just the right notes with your writing!
And if you want more helpful writing tips and updates like this blog post to land in your inbox, subscribe to my monthly email here: Book Coaching by Sharon
What is your favorite way to approach developing your writer’s voice?