I wanted to write about this topic today, because I find both as a writer and as a freelance editor, voice can be difficult to explain to someone and yet, what often draws a reader into a new book, is both the author’s voice and the character’s voice. In other words, it’s an incredibly important skill set. Author voice, in particular, feels a bit like a moving target so that’s what I’d like to dissect here. What is it, precisely, and how does one hone their own?
- An author’s voice is many things, but at its most basic level, it comes from the stories buried deeply within us. It comes from inner, unresolved conflicts tucked away into our subconscious, or from these sort of knots of pain and joy that make up who we are.
- Voice is also about honesty—an unfettered and unique collection of your thoughts, feelings, passions, dreams, beliefs, fears and attitudes. (Oh, that’s all? Lol.) But this honesty, or really you could call it a tapping into your truth, comes through in every word you write.
- Voice is also about courage. Many of us are afraid of total, gut-wrenching honesty. Instead of revealing that rawness, we present to the world images of who we want to be or should be, hiding who we are. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to uphold our facades, and in the process, we can lose touch with our true, unique selves. In essence, it takes courage to drop those walls and to seek out our truths, and let them flow freely onto the page.
WHAT MAKES YOUR VOICE UNIQUE
That honesty, tapping into the well of experiences and emotions, beliefs, passions, makes up your attitude. Your attitude encompasses how you view the world, and life in general, or how you feel about someone or something. It’s also revealed through the way you talk, your body language, and your actions. The author often portrays their attitude through the actions and thoughts of their characters.
An author’s writing style is also a key factor in making a voice standout from others. It’s a more technical aspect of writing and less of a touchy-feely and nebulous aspect. It includes the author’s choice in vocabulary (slang, dialect, swearing, erudite, sharp, accessible), sentence structures, the author’s cadence, as well as the figures of speech they use and how they use them. Finally, an author’s style encompasses their preference for warm versus cool writing (or elaborate versus sparse).
Another piece associated with author voice is the way the author evokes emotion from their readers. Some writers aim for thrilling, fast-paced stories so the majority of the emotion they evoke is excitement. Some writers like George R.R. Martin, for example, kill off characters and uses violence to elicit emotion. Nicholas Sparks separates loved ones in various ways and then pulls them together again, playing with the reader’s emotions. E.L. James elicits pleasure through sex scenes and love scenes.
And finally, an author’s tone plays into their voice and can become an essential part of their brand. Do you often write with a sense of impending doom? Or are your books light-hearted and optimistic? Funny? Do they carry an air of tragedy?
FINDING & HONING OUR VOICE
There are some techniques that can help us hone our author voice, and below are just a few:
Developing Confidence: What is needed, above all is self-confidence, and this comes through many small acts of courage. Opening your heart and soul to channel emotions to the page. Believing what you have to say is real and authentic and will mean something to someone. Eventually these little acts of courage will lead you to feel confident enough to share glimmers of who you are in your stories, lending your voice the sort of authenticity that will make your books stand out.
Analyze Others: Studying how other authors infuse their voice into their books is helpful. Compare and contrast them to your own. What sort of techniques do they use that you like? Don’t like? You may be the most successful with this if you read more than one book, or at least passages from more than book written by the same author. In this way, you can really see there’s a consistency in the author’s voice.
Express Yourself: How is your own life story unique? What makes YOU unique? Despite the fact that every plotline has been told a hundred times, each one has a fresh viewpoint, a different set of circumstances. Emphasize these differences—this is where your voice will emerge.
Don’t Over-think it: Don’t try to sound like you, just relax and be natural. Think about one of the first academic papers you ever wrote. You wanted to seem smart so you dumped a bunch of fifty-cent words in the text. But it came off stiff, unnatural and at times probably didn’t even make sense. Don’t force your voice. It will rise to the surface if you listen to your heart.
Practice: Beyond working on your manuscripts, hone your voice with easy exercises. Think of three personal questions or beliefs and record yourself answering the questions. Play it back. What sorts of phrases do you use? Intonation? Thoughts?
With practice, your voice will grow and mature, and readers will delight in the confident voice they’ve come to know and love.
I’d love to hear who some of your favorite authors are, with strong voices?