What sets you apart from other writers? How do you stand out from the crowd? The answer lies in ﬁnding your unique writing voice. In this blog two guest writers give their take on how to find and hone your voice.
Define ‘writer’s voice’
A writer’s voice brings your creative identity to life: this is the way you express ideas, craft sentences and choose words. It is identified by your choices regarding language, syntax, structure, and the overall impression your writing leaves on the reader. It is the fusion of your personal experiences and perspectives, and the storytelling techniques that make your work resonate with readers on a deeper level. Simply put, your writing voice forms a bridge between you and your audience.
Recognize character’s voice
What’s the difference between “writer’s voice” and ‘character’s voice”? Although the two concepts are closely linked, they each serve a different and distinct purpose. The writer’s voice refers to the quality of writing that makes a particular writer’s work unique – the sentence structure, rhythm and pacing, and the choice of words and turn of phrase that set the overall tone of the work. It is a distinct quality that’s consistent throughout the narrative.
Here’s an example from NY Book Editors site on a way to find your voice:
Choose between three to five adjectives to describe yourself as a writer. Your self-description gives insight into the type of voice you’re likely to have. I like to describe myself as ironic, playful, and conversational. I’m also drawn to writers with similar tone. The type of writers that appeal to you can also reveal the type of voice you have. We’re often influenced by the writers we love.
On the other hand, a character’s voice is the unique thought and speech patterns of individual characters within the work. Think about how different people speak: someone who is in their teens is going to speak differently to a middle-aged person, compared to an older person. Someone who speaks English as a foreign language will speak it differently to a native English speaker. Develop a writer’s ear. Listen to different age groups speaking. Go to a coffeeshop and eavesdrop on the way people speak. Observe their gestures and mannerisms. This will all form part of that essential character’s voice.
Writer’s voice: Plath vs Salinger
Immerse yourself in literature and read widely across different genres, taking note of writers who have distinct voices. What makes their writing stand out?
For the most part, it’s the ability to infuse their work with their own unique, lived experience. The following examples serve to illustrate this.
First, we’ll take a look at this quote from J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye:
Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And ‘m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.’
Salinger gives his protagonist a voice that reﬂects the author’s own adolescent disillusionment and angst. By drawing from his own experiences, Salinger imbues his protagonist’s voice with authenticity that captures the struggles and complexities of youth. The result is a deeply relatable and impactful narrative that has resonated with readers of all ages for generations, and continues to do so.
Next, let’s study two quotes from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar:
I saw the days of the year stretching ahead like a series of bright, white boxes, and separating one box from another was sleep, like a black shade. Only for me, the long perspective of shades that set off one box from the next day had suddenly snapped up, and I could see day after day after day glaring ahead of me like a white, broad, infinitely desolate avenue.
The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence. I knew perfectly well the cars were making noise, and the people in them and behind the lit windows of the buildings were making a noise, and the river was making a noise, but I couldn’t hear a thing. The city hung in my window, flat as a poster, glittering and blinking, but it might just as well not have been there at all, for all the good it did me.
Plath draws heavily from her own experiences of mental illness in crafting the voice of Esther Greenwood, the novel’s protagonist. Esther’s voice throughout the novel is hauntingly honest and raw ‒ and because the work is written in from a ﬁrst-person perspective, this adds to the quality of the writer’s voice, lending the work an emotional depth and authenticity. This allows readers to empathise and connect with Esther’s struggles on a deeper level.
These two examples are very different: Salinger’s narrator uses more colloquial language and more slang. Plath’s Esther is entirely devoid of slang or colloquialisms.
Deciding how you will write
Some writers use a lot of description in their writing – others hate doing that and will paint a scene with a few select phrases to let you know that you’re reading a novel set in the 1700s. A mention of a carriage waiting on a street corner and a mug of ale is all they will write as part of a description. But this will enough for the reader to pick up on clues. Decide which style of writing suits your own preferences too, and your genre. While the past is familiar to us through movies and TV and books, and these clues will be enough to signpost the way, it’s a different matter when you’re writing science fiction, for example. If you have created a whole new world, you’re going to need to describe this.
But there are exceptions to this. In Hanuki Murakami’s 1Q84, a few simple strokes establish the unusualness of a changed world:
There were two moons in the sky – a small moon and a large one. They were floating there side-by-side. The large one was the usual moon that she had always seen. It was nearly full, and yellow. But there was another moon right next to it. It had an unfamiliar shape. It was somewhat lopsided, and greenish, as though thinly covered with moss. This was what her vision had seized upon.
Listen to different age groups speaking. Go to a coffeeshop and eavesdrop on the way people speak. Observe their gestures and mannerisms. This will all form part of that essential character’s voice.Tweet This
There is only one true way to develop your natural voice, and that is to practice writing and work at being as honest as possible to who you are and how you would say something. For some writers, this will naturally make their writing spare; for others, it may become super colloquial.
Play, experiment, practice, read
Play around: Experiment with different writing styles, tones, and narrative techniques. Try writing the same scene in the first person, third person, or even second person. Explore different moods and narrative structures to find what resonates with you.
Daily practice and experimentation: These are vital in honing your writing voice. Write regularly (daily, if possible), pushing yourself to explore different styles and techniques outside of your comfort zone. Continually revise, rewrite, and edit your work to reﬁne your voice over time. It’s also useful to seek feedback from a writing mentor or an online writing community This will give you invaluable insights.
Read more: Explore various genres, writers, and styles to expose yourself to different voices. Pay attention to what resonates with you and how different writers express themselves.
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