Tag Archives: voice

How To Develop Your Writing Voice

(Author’s Note: For June, July & August, this blog will be posting on Mondays & Thursdays only!)

A writer’s voice is a complex, hard-to-describe thing.

I think it could be compared to a rich cheese, a well-crafted symphony or a good wine.

The complexities of each of these come from a variety of sources —  Cheese, music, and wine are complicated. Voice is complicated too. 

How To Develop Your Writing Voice by Katharine Grubb

A writer’s voice can be influenced by many different things. 

Each of my children could re-tell me the story of The Three Pigs, but they would all do it differently. The differences between their interpretations will lot to do with their individuality. The distinction between the different presentations would be their voice.

So how does our voice develop? I’d like to suggest beginning novelists tinker with influences. Show me a writer with a rich voice, and I’ll show your someone who has read great books most of their life. A writer with strong voice studies voice either consciously or subconsciously, and this is reflected in the words they put down. You can also find some practical tips here. 

How do you find your writer’s voice?

 A writer with a strong voice will be one who writes often. He is at ease with a variety of words. He may understand the use of grammar rules and manipulates the rules to serve his purpose.

To find you voice, you must have three things: Exposure to beautiful words, regular writing practice, and time.  There is no short cut.

Exposure to beautiful words:  You need to read. Read as many books as you can. Read your genre, but don’t be snobby about other genres. Try reading the classics, and try to figure out why they are so great.  Read writing blogs but always be reading and thinking about what you’re reading so that the words settle into the climate of your subconscious just perfectly. Then when the atmospheric conditions are perfect, you have a storm of words that is wonderful and dramatic and maybe even scary.

Regular writing practice: Developing strong voice is much like developing muscles for great athletic accomplishment.  If you sit at the keyboard repeatedly and daily put your thoughts together in a coherent way, you get better at it. You may  be able to train yourself over and over to see grammatical errors, then you’ll get better and more efficient at spotting them. With practice, you can say things more clearly and precisely.  Make a daily word count goal and keep it. Or plan to write a half hour each day. Find the way that’s best for you and do it!

And then there’s time: It’s common to suggest that after 10,000 hours one has mastery of a skill. You may not be able to track that in this lifetime. Don’t worry about it. Instead, focus on what you can to in the next ten minutes. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish. Believe this: no time is ever wasted. What may look like a loss is really life experience. You can make up for lost time. YOU CAN.

A writer with a great voice will also know their strengths.

Are you funny? Encouraging? Are you really good at analyzing LOL cats? Put your energy into this! You’re probably passionate about it too. And people will notice that you are good at it and they will want to hear more from you. Become an expert. Read everything you can get your hands on about your favorite subjects.  Apply the principles in new and exciting ways.

It is voice, I would like to argue, that carries the most artistic weight of our storytelling.

The nuances, the experiences, and the complexities make us who we are. Thus, our stories will be unique to all of us. Look for ways to enjoy your life, read and write and you’ll be working on your voice.

You won’t be able to help it.


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Find Your Voice through Word Choice A Guest Post By Sophia Ryan

An artist friend of mine often rolls a piece of paper into a tube and looks through it at a spot on her painting-in-progress.

She says it helps her to isolate a particular aspect of her painting, whether it be a tone or hue or whatever, and then to compare it to what’s around it. Separating it, she says, from the distraction of the surrounding parts lets her really see and analyze it. Only then can she determine whether it truly fits.

Finding Your Voice Through Word Choice
Finding Your Voice Through Word Choice

I stumbled onto a writing exercise the other day that acted as a paper tube isolation device for me.

Unfortunately, I can’t recall which book it was in at this moment, but the exercise was about finding your voice by uncomplicating the words you use. The task was to take a recent news event in my hometown and write a few paragraphs about it using one-syllable words only.

Working through the exercise forced me to really think about the words I was choosing.

Did they meet the one-syllable rule? Did they convey the meaning I was going for? Were they the right words? When I read over my finished news piece, I noticed how basic, but real, the writing was. I also noticed there was a distinct voice. Though I wouldn’t want to read an entire book written that way, it was a good exercise to help me see just how much word choice matters.

At its most basic form, writing is a series of choices.

Will you write a mystery or a romance? A psychological thriller or a young adult fantasy? What’s the premise, or plot? Setting? Tense? And so on. The choices only get more difficult when it comes time to write and edit. Which words will you use to express your ideas? How will you arrange those words into sentences and paragraphs and chapters?

Finding words that perfectly capture your meaning and perfectly convey that meaning to your readers through your voice is no small feat. What if your brain is acting like a bowl of oatmeal and can’t churn up the right word?

There are several things you can do:

1. Leave a blank for that word and keep going, then return to it later after your mind has had time to process.

2. Leave your work altogether.

Go take a shower or a walk or a drive. The word is likely to come out of hiding when you’re not looking for it.

3. Use a thesaurus to spawn ideas, to get you thinking, but don’t rely on the one that comes with your word-processing program. It’s not complete enough to give you the options you need. It’s like using skim milk when the recipe calls for heavy cream.

Remember, it’s your word choices that reveal your style, that give your writing personality, so it’s critical to isolate the perfect words that will best reveal your ideas to your readers, or so says Les Edgerton in his book Finding Your Voice – which, btw, is where I found the writing exercise I’m blogging about today! I hoped it would come to me before my time was up.

In case you’re curious, here’s an excerpt of my piece from the exercise. I’ll tell you what it’s about afterwards so you can judge for yourself whether I was clear in my word choices.

Guys and gals, young and old, flock to the loud bars at night in the old and dark heart of Duke town. Drinks and laughs fast turn to brawls and cries. Fists spill blood, crack teeth, and break bones. Spewed vile paints the streets. Half dead souls curl up at the curbs, and no one cares. The boys in blue rush in, knock heads, and haul all to jail. The day dawns for the nabbed ones with fines, pain, and stench. Their vows of “No more!” fill the ears of the court. Yet they are back at the bars the next night. And the next. And the next. And once more, the streets run red with blood, white with puke, and blue with cops. What can be done to stop this blight that eats the heart of our town and grieves us all?

The story is about the trouble my hometown is having in controlling the drinking and drinking-related fights and crimes in the heart of the city: the old downtown area. Were you able to get that from my piece? I hope so. (A side note – my hometown, Albuquerque, is called the Duke City. Because City is two syllables, I wrote “town.”)

Try this exercise yourself. It’s more difficult than you think. But it’s fun, and it’ll get you in the mindset of focusing on your word choices so you can write novels filled with personality. For more about this topic, take a look at Mr. Edgerton’s insightful book.

Peace, love, and happy writing everyone!

 

How Do You Discover Your Writing Voice? A Guest Post By Ally Bishop

How do you discover your writing voice?

Sounds like a crazy question, especially if you’ve been writing for some time. But I recently worked with an incredibly talented writer who hadn’t quite nailed down her voice, and when she asked what I meant when I said as much, I realized that it’s something that we rarely discuss in writing circles, nor do we define its hazy boundaries.

So what’s this elusive voice of which I speak? I’m so glad you asked.

How Do You Find Your Writing Voice? A Guest Post By Ally Bishop
How Do You Find Your Writing Voice? A Guest Post By Ally Bishop

Think about the last time you dove into your favorite book series or discovered a tome in the used bookstore by an author you used to love. As you perused the passages, you were once again reminded of how much you adore this author’s style, phrasing, characters, and imagination. The simple act of reading his or her words put you into a new world, a place so real, you could smell the sewers and feel the heat of the sun. The experience moved you, and you added that author to your list of “must-reads.” You keep an eye out for their work and recommended it wholeheartedly.

What grabbed and held you? Sure, a great plotline and developed characters help, but when a writer has that special something, the story comes alive. That’s the same reason why you can pick up a book with a phenomenal story idea, but come away frustrated and not quite liking it, yet you can’t quite figure out why.

Author Ally Bishop
Author Ally Bishop

Your voice is your thumbprint in the writing world. The way you string words together, how you phrase descriptions, how you envision a scene—they’re as unique to you as your facial features. In a world of seven basic plots, it’s the one that sets you apart.

When you don’t have your voice nailed down, you’re never sure if your writing is good. You think you have moments of wonder…but then you go back to the same section, and it’s less thrilling than you remember. When you haven’t developed your voice, you’ll get feedback that reads something like, “the idea was good, but I couldn’t get into it,” or “this book was really good in the beginning, but then it fell apart.”

When your voice is solid, you know when your story falls apart because it stops sounding and feeling like you. The writing feels forced, rather than effortless. It’s that simple.

So, now that I’ve sold you on making sure you’ve got your voice nailed down, how the dickens do you do it?

That’s all I have time for today, folks. Have a great night! I’m here all week—tip your server!

I’m just kidding! Well, sort of. Defining the writing voice is actually a lot easier than teaching someone how to find hers. But if you’re up for the challenge I’ll do my best.

You ready? Here we go.

1.    Stop reading self-help writing books. Seriously. I did that. I read them all. I recommend them to my clients sometimes. They have their uses. But—and this is the key part—they can stop you from writing when that’s what you most need to do. Get thee to your local twelve-step program if necessary, and let’s get to the voice-finding, eh?

2.    Write a lot. And not necessarily your current work in progress. I started developing my voice when I wrote non-fiction. The difference was so stark, I was astonished. My words took on a life of their own, and people responded. Try writing about some painful or frustrating life events, as though you were going to send it to the Huffington Post or New York Times for publication consideration. See what you find. But whatever else you do, write thousands of words, without judgment or pause.

3.    Speak your words as you write them. Sounds silly, I know. But the way you speak is unique to you, just like your writing voice. And saying things out loud forces us to hear the rhythm. It’s one of the most important things you can do to figure your voice out, and I promise, you’ll be surprised how your writing improves.

4.    Outlaw your thesaurus habit. Yes, I see you over there. When you think no one is looking, you feed your need. No one is fooled, my friend. Not a single reader is convinced that you use “pusillanimous” in every day vernacular. And no, I don’t think “peripatetic” rolls off your tongue. Except for rare occasions, like writing a resume, you should never touch a thesaurus, especially when you are still trying to identify your voice. If the word isn’t natural to you, the result will ruin your cadence.

5.    Stop trying to write like other people. I graduated with my M.F.A. from a prestigious, literary-focused program. I rubbed elbows with New York agents and editors; widely published, award-winning authors; and respected filmmakers. I never admitted that I wanted to write paranormal romance. Not I. Nooooo. I wrote mysteries with (what I hoped was) a literary bent. I claimed my love for Shakespeare, got lost in memoirs, and pretended to adore poetry. I spent so much time trying to impress other people with my prose and cultured tastes, I lost what I wanted most: my writing voice. How you write is what other people want to read. They didn’t come to your book because they wanted to read Hemmingway. Your readers want your stories told your way. If you write literary stories, go after it. If you tend towards genre fiction, go rip your characters’ bodices with flair! Don’t let other people’s attitudes about certain kinds of writing affect what you do. You can laugh all the way to the bank when your (well-edited, wrapped, and promoted) book sells circles around theirs.

I know what you’re thinking: how do I know when I’ve found my voice? That’s the strange part—this isn’t a tangible thing that you can measure. You can’t point out hours in the chair and say, THERE—look at that beautiful voice I’ve created! Sadly, it’s not quite that easy, but there’s a secret to knowing that I’ll let you in on.

You just know.

Like you can feel the seduction of the ocean as you near the shore, or the gentle flutter of a butterfly when you finally lay still enough for him to land, your soul will quicken. It’s like having a runner’s high (and yes, I swear, it exists, unbelievable though it seems sometimes). There’s nothing in this world quite like it.

Of course, it’ll show up in your book sales and your reviews, too. When your writing gets the compliments, rather than just your plot and characters. When a reader says they couldn’t put your book down because your words kept them captivated. When your long-time critique partner has to text you their excitement over your story before you’re scheduled to talk.

Your voice: it’s out there, waiting for you to discover its tiny yet incomparable power. And when you have, you’ll soar, my friend.

PS – you still have to outline your stories. You aren’t getting out of it.

 

 

Ally Bishop’s Bio:

When you do something effortlessly and people commend you continuously, you have found your gift.

That’s what I tell people all the time. And it’s true.

I get story. I always have. I started writing when I was eight, on a Smith Corona (the electronic kind — I’m not THAT old). I wrote stories in every spiral notebook I had. Eventually, I graduated to a Mac (yes, I’m one of THOSE people). I imagined new worlds, emotional conflicts, and HEAs while I waited at stoplights or wandered the grocery store. But here’s the thing: I didn’t just dream it up and write it down — I critiqued what I read. I knew when ideas were good and when they stunk. I ran writing groups, judged creative contests, and eventually got two graduate degrees in writing. That’s right: I love it that much.

What makes me a good editor is, ironically, what makes me good as a publicist, too. Because when I read a good story, one that others will love and want to read, I know it. And then I can’t shut up about it. I want to scream it from the rooftops, because it’s amazing, and everyone — EVERYONE — needs some awesome in their life. So when I commit to your work, it’s because I know it will rock readers’ worlds, and that awesome deserves an audience.

Want to reach me? Head over to Upgrade Your Story for outrageously cool editing, social media management, and publicity services that you shouldn’t publish without.”