A Writer's Voice by Roz Denny Fox



Can you, as a writer, define your writing voice? I thought a lot about what 3 words might describe what I think is my writing voice. Expressive, compassionate and pragmatic.

But when I asked other people who have read my books, they gave other definitions. One said, cozy, wry and direct. Another said; honest. Someone said: sympathetic, empathetic, but also physical in that I feel I’ve been to the settings you describe.

So does your voice come out in your descriptions, in your dialogue, or in how you depict your characters? It should. By the same token your novel writer’s voice probably isn’t the voice you use when writing things in your day job. There you may be reflecting expectations by your boss or the company. For instance I remember when I worked for 3 doctors, each had a distinctive way of talking to their patients. So any time they’d toss something on my desk that needed a response, they’d often tell me: “say something appropriate”. I tried very hard to use their more formal tone and weed out any Roz-isms. It wasn’t until I began to write books that I looked back and understood what I’d done. So generally in novel writing big words aren’t important, but how even simple words are strung together.

Editors frequently say they want new, fresh voices. Yet when pressed, they often say they’ll know when they see it. I suspect they don’t want you to try to sound like a writer. Since you don’t talk like anyone else, why should you write like anyone else? Because a writer’s story usually come from within, from subconscious thoughts, the first time you put your story ideas on a page reflects your voice. The more you tinker with what you’ve written, the less of your voice shines through. Sometimes that means you make your writing too stilted or flat-sounding. Too much editing or rewriting can quash your natural sparkle. So can writing to the market.

I believe a writer’s voice is why we can’t compare our work to other writers. What I write is my tone, my attitude, my individuality shown through my characters. Of course characters evolve from people in our lives, past and present, both enemies and friends, and even some dead. Still they are born from a place deep inside of our own selves. Just as an artist’s work can be recognized by a choice of colors, style, subjects, the same is true of an author developing voice. It’s sometimes how a writer treats the subject chosen. For instance give several writers the same subject and one may turn out gritty realism while another might show mystical fantasy. Another may turn the subject into pithy, sarcastic humor, and a fourth make the subject sound sensual and poetic. That’s voice.

Voice may well be why a reader reaches time and again for the same author’s books. It may be a repetition of style, or cadence that identifies the work. Does the reader like wordy descriptions, modern slang, or something told in short, punchy sentences? All are telling when it comes to writing true to your own voice. Your voice will find its audience.

A new writer shouldn’t try to write exactly like an author they love, because to write like another writer is to copy. Your voice is your interpretation of whatever subject you are writing about. Voice isn’t technique. It’s a composite of your beliefs, hopes, dreams, fears, memories, passions, achievements and failures.

Although a writer’s voice is unique it also needs to speak to readers so they recognize some part of their own personality in your story characters. I recall serving as an author panel once where the overall discussion was to be: Voice is the Key to Story Magic. Three of us set out seven steps to finding a prospective writer’s voice. I’ll list them here, and even though this panel was a half dozen years ago, see if you think they still apply.

1.    Write through first draft without self-editing. Read through to identify strengths and weaknesses.

2.    Listen to your instincts—if it sounds right, keep it.

3.    Sit back and analyze what you like about your own story.

4.    If you blog or journal regularly, notice your choice of topics and how you choose to tell about the subject.

5.    Just let go. Give yourself permission to write what you want, not what others are writing, or what seems trendy.

6.    Explore. Push boundaries. Free your characters to say what first comes to mind.

7.    Finally, write more. Hone the voice you’ve discovered, plot story ideas that showcase what stands out.

Now in winding down I again remind, don’t compare yourself to other writers, because you can’t write in their voice. Remember that your writer voice is an expression of self. Voice is not only indicative of your character, but is an expression of your spirit. In a nutshell, your voice is your thoughts shining through the vocabulary you’ve chosen for individual story characters. And books with strong voice withstand the test of time.

Since the majority of people reading this blog are writers, I’m really interested in hearing everyone’s comments on the subject of writer voice.

Comments

  1. I like to visualize what I read. I suppose that's why descriptions are important to me. I will say it takes time to settle into your own voice as at first you try to provide what you think the reader and the editor want.

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  2. I once heard another writer (can’t remember who) say never to let someone tamper with your voice. It’s the only thing you have. Thanks for this, Roz, and the seven points.

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  3. What a great post, Roz. Voice is something I think most writers struggle with, both with defining and finding. I remember taking a workshop with author Terry McLaughlin a number of years ago and she said imagine voice is a piece of music and each author plays the same instrument. How each author interprets and plays that piece, is their voice. It really stuck with me. My voice definitely comes out in dialogue (I think. I could be wrong, LOL). It's where my happy place is when I'm writing and it feels the most effortless. I also agree that voice is something you know when you see, but can't always define. Really thought provoking piece, Roz. Thank you!

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  4. Great tips, Roz. What you say about voice is so true. In my coaching practice, I urge people to write that first draft fast and without letting the inner editor censor them too early in the process. I've known people who have been perfecting their opening paragraphs for years! And it's certainly true that voice emerges as we write, and write, and write! Thanks so much for this.

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  5. Awesome post, Roz. Great tips. I think my voice changes depending on the characters. I can tell a difference, but I suppose a reader might say my style stays the same. Like Anna, I love dialogue and feel that's where my characters shine. Now you've got me thinking about it! Thanks!

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  6. Already you all have added some great thought to this blog. Anna, maybe dialogue is the place for individual voice to shine through.

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  7. Voice is one of those nebulous things that make all the difference. When my characters experience something new, I try to capture the wonder I felt the first time I saw, say Denali or the Grand Canyon. You're right, voice is why I love some books so much. Thanks.

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  8. A tricky topic, Roz! Each person leaves a distinctive impression in many ways, writer's voice, artist's hand, the way you organize your kitchen drawers... But you don't need to direct this expression. This ineffable quality is a fun mystery.

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  9. Awesome post, Roz. And your tips are a good reminder to established authors, too.

    "Voice" is one of the reasons I never leave a review for a book that doesn't connect with me. I figure the author's voice isn't providing the right harmony for my ears to appreciate (there's a whole genre of music that just doesn't do anything for me). That doesn't mean it won't appeal to someone else. I DO review books that I can celebrate with positive feedback and appreciation.

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  10. Great post. I think warmth and honesty are both big parts or your writing, Roz. For me, I feel like my writing voice is a great place to get out all the insights & snarky comments that aren't really appropriate in day-to-day interactions :)

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  11. Great post, Roz. Voice is so important and distinctive, and you've done a great job of explaining it. My first published book sounded like every other writer I'd been reading, and not at all like me. Looking at that book now, I can't imagine why any editor bought it. Fortunately, I soon found my own voice.

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  12. To me, voice is your personality on the page. Great post, Roz!

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  13. Fabulous post, Roz! I think voice is definitely the reason I reach for the same authors over and over again. It is difficult to define, but you did a great job of it here. I recently read an piece by a very accomplished (multi-NYT Bestseller) who said that he rarely edits something he's written more than once for this reason - so his voice doesn't get lost. That would nice. Lol.

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  14. You’ve given me a lot to think about here,Roz. It takes a while for new authors to find their own voice, at least that was my experience. And you’re so right when you remind us that our voice influences our characters, their passions and hopes. Thanks for this very thoughtful and inspirational post!

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  15. www.cynthiathomason.netApril 27, 2018 at 11:08 AM

    Excellent blog Roz. I especially like the "write the first draft all the way through" tip. That can be difficult to do when you are part of a critique group, and you don't want to make them read a first draft. In that case, I clean up the words a bit but save the major editing for the final read through. I don't over-edit. When my editor gets a manuscript from me, it has been finally edited only one time. You are right. Writing isn't about perfection. It's about voice. Voice is what makes you hit the right chords with the reader.
    Cynthia

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  16. I'm loving reading everyone's comments. That's what I hoped the blog would do, bring out a lot of individual ideas on a really elusive subject. I find it hard to write a first draft all the way through. Like Cynthia said, a critique group goes chapter by chapter. But if you wait to make changes until the end, I think there is less chance of losing voice.

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  17. At university one of the exercises in my advanced composition class was to write essays in the voice of various other writers like Andy Rooney or a book from the Bible. It help me to be aware of how word choice and rhythm affect style. Those exercises help me keep my characters' voices distinct (most of the time, anyway). But MY voice? That only came from writing--a lot--as you point out above.

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  18. How intriguing
    this voice you say we have
    I look in the mirror
    yes it’s me
    I look at the page…
    Good God!
    It’s me again
    Where did I come from?

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  19. Even though I’m not a writer, I appreciate your advice about writing. They are excellent suggestions. ( :

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  20. Again, thanks to everyone who stopped by. I am enjoying reading all of your comments as I knew I would. Collectively we writers have a lot of interesting facts we've accumulated over the years.

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  21. What a thoughtful and thought-provoking post! I think voice is in you and gets developed as you write. As a former fourth grade teacher, I could identify student essays without looking at the name at the top of the page (after I got to know the children). Ten-year-olds have voices, too! And that voice gets defined with time and choice. Great comments, all.

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  22. Excellent post, Roz! Sorry I'm late to it, but it's so good I'm going to tweet it to writers.

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