Let’s welcome back monthly columnist, editor, and novelist, Kay Keppler, as she shares with us “Developing Your Voice.” Enjoy!
Most writers read a lot, and when they first sit down to write, they use as models for their own work the books of writers they admire. This practice has a couple of useful benefits: It helps beginners become accustomed to the writing task, the process of committing words to a page. And it helps writers learn how to put sentences and words together in a structure that makes sense.
Don’t Obsess on the Work of Others
However, lingering too long on the writing of others means that you’re putting off finding your own unique voice.
Voice is a distinct way of putting words together, a unique sensibility, or a specific outlook. It comes with practice and the confidence you build as you write that what you’re saying is what you want to say and how you want to say it. Scott Gloden calls this effect “dancing on the page.”
Gloden says that to keep his writing voice fresh, he now dances for real all the time on his own—just for a couple of seconds, maybe, but often. Maybe he takes a couple of steps when he retrieves the mail or leaves the room. He uses the movement to remind himself that you have to dance for yourself, that you shouldn’t try to keep up with others who might be heading in a different direction. The dancing, he says, is “a reminder to keep excavating my voice…to deliver what…I’m longing to convey.”
Voice in writing, as in talking, is a reflection of your personality, including attitude, tone, and personal style.
- Attitude is about emotion, values, and beliefs—how you see the world or feel about someone or something. You reveal your attitude by how you talk, your body language, and your actions.
- Tone of voice is not about what you say, but how you say it. Tone is influenced or even governed by attitude.
- Personal style is about who you are. Are you detail-oriented, or are broad generalizations more your thing? Do you have a poster of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Dave Chapelle on your wall? Are you comfortable with slang and swearing? Every part of your personality influences your writer’s voice. With the choices you make in vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar, and other technical aspects of writing, you can emphasize those parts of your personal style that you want to stress and limit the parts you’d rather not reveal.
Develop Your Writer’s Voice
Your voice evolves with time and practice. Whether you work on it or not, if you keep writing, eventually you’ll develop (or stumble upon) a voice that’s unique to you. But if you choose to, there are things you can do to develop your voice.
- Read frequently, read widely, and read everything. Not just the kind of stuff you write. Read things that are outside your comfort zone: business articles, science magazines, fantasy novels—read it all.
- Release fear. Write like nobody will see it. Abandon perfection and let the words flow. Editing is for later.
- Reveal your personal style. The more you write, the more you’ll see word choices you like or techniques that work for you. Eventually your style will emerge and become consistent.
- Revise until you’re done. First, review your grammar and punctuation. If there’s an error in your protagonist’s speech, make sure you want your character to talk like that—and then have her make that error throughout the manuscript. Check your drafts for consistency, repetition, and rhythm. Is attitude and tone similar throughout? Work until you’re happy with what you’ve written.
It’s a Process
Developing your voice takes time and practice. Babies don’t learn to speak in a week, and your voice won’t emerge immediately, either. In time, you’ll be dancing on the page, and your readers will beg to come to your party.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
She lives in northern California. Contact her here at Writer’s Fun Zone in the comments below, or at [email protected] to ask questions, suggest topics, or if you prefer, complain.