This blog on writing voice starts with a list. Adele, Nora Jones, Frank Sinatra, Maria Callas, Mick Jagger, Lady Gaga, Whitney Houston, Shakira, Bob Dylan, Cristina Aguilera, Sean Combs…. The list could go on endlessly. Elvis, Usher, Sarah Mclachlan, Lil Nas X. They open their mouths to sing, and you immediately recognize their voices.
A writer’s voice may not be as recognizable from the first sentence as a singer’s opening notes. However, a writer’s equally distinctive voice will unfold over the flow of sentences. Subject choice. Word choice. Imagery. Emotional evocations. Point of view.
A writer is a verbal painter. As the title image suggests, writing is the painting of the voice.
Find Your Writing Voice: Read, Read, Read
I say this all the time. Writers read. They want to read. They need to read.
You find your voice first by listening to other authorial voices.
Cultivate your ear to your favorite writers. Tune in.
I’m a romance writer, not a mystery writer, but many of my stories involve mysteries. One of my favorite mystery writers is Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. I read her entire Bill Slider mystery series before writing Buy Me Love. I didn’t imitate her, I can’t imitate her. And I don’t want to, anyway. However, I did find her work a welcome influence.
Find Your Writing Voice: Time for a Personality Check
If you’re reading this blog, you are a writer. And you have a personality. Your unique self is what you want to come through the pores of the words on the page.
Lucky is the writer who finds her voice with the first words she writes. The rest of us aren’t so lucky. We may write many muddy pages before we get the colors of the paint and the brush strokes just right. It’s not because we have unformed personalities. It’s because writing is a tricky harness, and it sometimes takes years to get the fit right.
You can always try psychotherapy to get in touch with the basic facets of your personality. You can ask your friends about you. But you also have to write those muddy pages. Eventually you will find what Julia Cameron calls an artist’s vein of gold “the territory of experience and possibility that is indelibly theirs.”
You may discover that you’re funny or particularly good at interior monologue or able to see the dark side of an otherwise sunny situation. But you can’t know it in advance of actually writing.
Get to know yourself through writing.
Find Your Writing Voice: Give it Voice
This tip is simple: Read your work aloud.
How does it sound? Stilted or natural? How does it scan? Choppy or rhythmic? There’s nothing wrong with stilted and choppy if that’s exactly what you’re going for. Your character may be in an awkward or confusing situation. You want the cadences of your passages to match the tone of the scene you are bringing to life.
The axes around which the love relationships in my romances turn are the dialogues between the hero and heroine. They’re the verbal sculpture of the relationship. The hero and heroine have to sound like unique individuals. They also have to click, even if they’re arguing. I love creating those dialogues, and I love reading them aloud to see how they sound. One dialogue may take twenty edits, maybe more.
Find Your Writing Voice: Get Out in the World
Yes, you need to read – a solitary activity. But you also need to get out in the world. See, feel and smell the places you’re writing about. Your particular way of perceiving the world reflects your personality. Interview people involved in the world you want to write about. What you learn from them and how you react to them are also reflections of your personality. This kind of research will inevitably inform the voice you bring to the page.
Too often beginning writers think they have to pull everything out of their imaginations. That’s pulling a punch.
For instance, I have read more than one story involving a professor at a university or an academic setting. It becomes immediately obvious to me – a college professor – when the writer obviously knows nothing about the job process, tenure, committee work, departmental politics and all the rest. Without that knowledge, how can the writer offer any of her personality beyond laziness?
Herein lies the reason for the old adage: Write What You Know. Your authentic voice – the perspective only you can give in the words only you can write – shines through in a story you know from the inside.
Your research is your self.
Find Your Writing Voice: Know Your Audience
I’ve heard it said that Stephen King writes with his wife in mind. What she would find scary. And that this is a method for finding your voice. I’m not sure about that. Now, I agree that having an audience in mind is a great writing technique to project yourself into the mind of your ideal reader. But I’m just not sure it’s good for finding your voice.
It’s always great if you can find a reader to give you feedback. One who can say, “Yes, this sounds like you.” However, I’m a fan of Toni Morrison‘s wisdom. “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must write it.”
That book is a product of your personality through which your voice will sing.
You are your first audience.
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen