Friday, November 6, 2009

Tips to Finding Your Writer’s Voice

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The word, “voice” is batted around in literary circles and agents always speak of looking for the “unique voice.” However, few new writers understand the concept of their voice, let alone how to develop the skill.

Some say “voice” cannot be taught, while others say it is the easiest thing for an author to develop. In my opinion, it’s already within you. All you have to do is find it and usher it forth.

What is “voice” and what purpose does it serve?

Well, defines it as, “The distinctive style or manner of expression of an author or of a character in a book. The phrase I see as most important in that definition is, “distinctive style”. I believe the purpose of voice is to identify an individual author and to attract readers and hold their attention. It is the way you, the author, artistically project your personality.

To apply this concept to an individual author, his voice is that unique quality within the way he lays words on the page. It is the combination of tone, syntax or grammar usage, and the way he combines the words he chooses. It is his distinct flavor or personality as it shows on the printed page.

So how might one develop their distinctive voice? Here are some tips:

Write with Your Heart.

Make sure the words you put on the page are from your personality. When you do this, your voice virtually comes to life of its own accord. Not to say editing won’t be necessary, but to find your voice, seek your words from within your essence. Don’t try to mimic another writer. You should certainly study and learn from them, but your words must be your words.

Write in the Manner You Might Speak to Those Close to You.

When speaking with friends, family members or loved ones, your tone is different when compared that manner of speech you’ll use in a business situation. Your words come more from the heart and their clarity is enhanced. Allow that personal side of you to shine through when you write and your voice will ring true.

Visualize Your Reader.

As writers, we should have our audience in mind at all times. Imagine those who read your novel or nonfiction work as your friend and write to that friend.

Read Widely in All Types of Genres.

If you’ve read my earlier posts, you’ve heard me say to read widely from within your genre. To assist in developing your voice, however, you need to read other types of works, too. Read everything on which you can lay your hands. Find those authors who appeal to you and study the way they employ the language. This will give you a “feel” for how your voice will sound and how it will come across to those who read your books. It matters not that you do or don’t like what you read. The purpose here is to identify and identify with other writers’ voices.

Play with Your Voice.

Write, write then write some more. Experiment with finding ways to put your heart onto the page before you. Write short stories, press releases, non-fiction, magazine articles, a children’s story. Just write. They don’t have to be long, tedious things, and don’t worry about trying to break out of your genre. Don’t over-think it. Just play with the words in different situations as see what falls out of you by rote.

Write. Write a Lot.

I had a saying I often used with my children on their road to adulthood. In fact, I used it so often it’s now THE family joke. That saying was, “Practice, practice, practice.” I know, it sounds inane, but this is still the best way to develop your writer’s voice.

Look for Patterns in Your Writing.

Someone once told me the person who sees the pattern to things is the one who gets wealthy. Use this idea on yourself to find your voice. Look for the serendipity in your writing. What is it you tend toward automatically? These patterns will exhibit themselves in time and within them, you’ll see your natural voice. Welcome it and it will become even more prevalent in your writing.

How Might One Develop Their Voice?

Try this exercise. Write a rough draft of something. This first penning is where you think the least about what it is you’re writing. Don’t go back right away to review what you wrote. Set it aside and come back to it in a week or a month. When you pick it up the following month, you’ll see more of your voice than you realized when you first put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, as it were. When you review it, highlight those words or phrases that appeal to you. Remove everything else on the page then put it aside again. In another month, review what’s left. You may be surprised to find your voice within those highlighted phrases.

You might also try this. Set a mood wherever it is you write. Place things around you that irritate you. (Maybe you can surround yourself with photos of the boss and ex-wife.) Make sure you use as many of your senses as possible. (Use the ex’s perfume, for example.) The key here is not to be shy about what you’re doing. Once you find yourself slipping into that mood, write with abandon, without thought, and see what happens. Do this with all the various moods you experience. Try joy, anger, love. Once your surroundings put you in the mood, write like a crazy person. Your voice may just show up and stay for a while. If it does stop by, you’ll notice things like sentence length, word choices, metaphors, similes and the like. You’ll see how you turn that proverbial phrase and what might be your natural cadence. In effect, you’ll notice your writing patterns and your voice therein.

How does one know when they’ve found and matured their voice? It’s when each of your characters has a voice of their own. It’s a fun day when you realized this maturity in your writing.

Once you find and perfect your individual voice, I think you’ll find your writing surge into those places previously unknown to you.

Best of luck in finding your voice and may all your books be best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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