by C. Patrick Schulze
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The word, “voice” is almost a reverent term within literary circles. Quite often, this highly sought yet nebulous prize is mentioned with a sigh as if one speaks of their life’s lost love. Every agent seeks that single “unique voice” among writers as if it were a talisman upon which they mayhang their future. Some say voice is so essential to a writer’s success, it outweighs the craft of writing itself.
Some say “voice” cannot be taught, while others say it is among the simplest of things for an author to develop. I guess that depends upon whether you’ve found yours or not. Regardless, in my opinion, it’s already within you. All you need do is find it and usher it forth.
What is “voice” and what purpose does it serve? Well, Dictionary.com 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 this definition is, “distinctive style”. I believe it is the way you, the author within, artistically projects your personality onto the page. It is the combination of tone, syntax or grammar, and the way you combine the words you choos. It is the distinct flavor or personality that reveals itself on the printed page.
So how might one develop their distinctive voice? Here are some tips:
Write with Your Heart.
Insure 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 should come from your soul.
Write in the Manner You Might Speak to Those Close to You.
When you speak with friends, family members or loved ones, your tone is different when compared to your manner of speech in a business environment. 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 Genres.
If you’ve read my earlier posts, you’ve heard me recommend to read widely from within your genre. To develop your voice, however, you should read other types of works, too. Find those authors who appeal to you and study the way they employ the language. This will point you toward your voice 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, fiction, 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 and see what cascades from 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. Write, and write a lot.
Look for Patterns in Your Writing.
Someone once told me the person who sees the patterns to things is the one who makes the money. Use this same idea to find your voice. Look for the serendipity in your writing. What is it you tend toward without thought? 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.
Fine Tune Your Voice.
Try this exercise. Write a rough draft of something. This is where you think the least about what it is you’re writing. Set the work aside and come back to it in a week, or better yet, a month. When you review it later, 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 look it over, highlight those phrases or sentences that appeal to you, those that strike the memorable cord. 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 remaining phrases.
You might also try this. Set a mood wherever it is you write a scene. Place things around you that enhance the mood of the scene on which you plan to work. Try to employ as many senses as possible. For a scene where your characters argue, maybe you surround yourself with photos of the boss and light one of the ex’s cigars. Whatever works. The key here is not to be shy about what you’re doing. Do this with various scenes and their associated moods. Once you find yourself slipping into whichever frame of mind you decide upon, then write with abandon. Write with as little thought as possible, but as much intuition as you might muster. Again, set your writing aside for a time then follow the exercise above and highlight what catches your ear. Your voice may just show up and stay for a while.
When it visits, you’ll notice things like sentence length, word choices, metaphors, similes and the like. You’ll see how you turn that proverbial phrase and your natural cadence. In effect, you’ll notice your writing patterns and your voice lies 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 identify and perfect your individual voice, I think you’ll see your writing expand into places previously unknown to you.
Best of luck in finding your voice and know I wish you only best-sellers.
C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”