If you’re seeking to publish your writing, you’ll often find advice columns telling you that agents and editors are looking for that unique X factor in a book: a compelling writer’s voice. The problem is that voice is such a wishy washy term without a clear definition. So how to do you find your writer’s voice? We’ll start with a definition, and then I’ll show you how to develop it.
What is Voice?
Writer’s voice is the way you tell a story. It’s your tone, word choice, descriptions, lack of descriptions, mood, point of view, worldview—the whole enchilada. It’s when you read an email and you can “hear” a loved one in it. It’s when you can tell if someone else wrote a text or post…it just doesn’t “sound” like who it’s allegedly from. Author’s voice is just like this. It’s the distinctive way a writer writes.
Keep in mind that your writer’s voice should be distinctive from the narrator. Your narrator is usually a specific character in the story and not you. However, you’re steering the ship, so the way you envision your narrator telling the story is also a little bit you. Think of yourself as the hand in the puppet.
It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It
Storytelling comes from word choices, punctuation, brevity or longevity, observations, and tone (to name a few!) of your writing. I’ve read about murders that were terrifying, horrifically realistic, funny, zany, or dispassionate. A description of a murder that makes you want to turn the lights on at night and make sure the front door is locked is totally different from one that is so ridiculous, you laugh out loud. Yet, that happens. Stephen King is not the same writer as Carl Hiassen, yet they’re both great writers. They tell their stories in different ways, and this springs forth from their voice.
Who are you? Do you love to be scared? Are you a horror movie junkie? You like to watch movies between your fingers? Or, does that kind of thing freak you out? Do you fall for slap stick? Or are you a sucker for emotional plots? All of this plays a role in voice. Voice is not genre, it’s how you tell the individual story, but your personal preferences shine through.
Read and Write More
Ultimately the only way to develop your writer’s voice is to write. You might have to write a lot before you land on what suits you. Some believe voice is innate, but everything can be improved with practice. If you’re unsure what voice is: read more. Read widely and often. Then be critical. Ask what the voice was like. Why did you or did you not connect to it? How does one voice differ from another? The more you recognize it in other books, the easier it will be to hone in your own.
It’s like the old adage says: practice makes perfect. Agents, editors, and readers like distinctive voices because they make reading interesting. Voice pulls you into the story. Voice tells the story. The more you write and feel the freedom to do it the way you want, the clearer your voice will be.