This is a guest post by Jeremy Fordham. Thanks, Jeremy, for your great contribution!
When you dive into a book by your favorite author, you usually have an idea of what to expect from it even before you read the first sentence. This is because authors write in ways that make their books recognizable as their own, a distinguishing characteristic called voice. This voice encompasses a writer’s particular tone and style, from the length of their sentences to their syntactical predispositions. Developing this unique voice in writing takes time and a multi-pronged approach to enhancing your use of the language in which you
write. Even accomplished scholars from Ph.D. Programs have been known to have problems developing a voice that is uniquely their own—the thesis can be real struggle for most students. But whether you want to write dissertations, small essays, poetry, blogs or novels, your most important asset as a writer will always be your ability to distinguish yourself from the crowd: your voice.
What is Voice?
A writer’s voice is like a personality on paper. Personal beliefs, outlooks and attitudes all influence the way a writer “sounds” when telling a story or presenting information. Every writer out there, published or unpublished, has a one-of-a-kind voice that gives life and character to his or her work. Readers seek out writers whose voices engage them and make them want to read more. So not only is voice part of a writer’s identity, it’s also part of what makes the writing enjoyable to audiences young and old.
Distinctive voices are found across all genres throughout literary history. Take, for example, Joseph Heller, author of “Catch-22.” Heller’s voice relies on a rhythmic, stream-of-consciousness style and dark sense of humor to convey the serious and disturbing realities dealt with in the novel. By contrast, the work of British humorist Douglas Adams is always identifiable by its fast pace, dry wit, and amusing tangents.
Voice is equally as important when writing for a younger audience. Probably the most notable example of a unique voice in children’s literature is Dr. Seuss. No matter which Seuss story kids pick up, they know they’ll be treated to stories full of whimsical characters told in lighthearted rhymes. Even as children, readers gravitate towards writers with interesting and captivating voices.
Finding Your Voice
Chances are if you’ve written something, whether for business or for pleasure, you’ve already begun to get in touch with your writer’s voice. The way that you “talk” on paper is how your writing sounds to readers. Through this, readers can get to know you the way that they know other authors whose work they enjoy. Try imagining that you’re having a conversation with your readers and write as though you’re speaking directly to them. This gives your writing a personal touch and helps free you from the tendency to try and write everything perfectly the first time around.
If you’re having trouble hitting on what your specific voice is, give other voices a try. Pick a few authors whose work you admire and write something that imitates it. The more you experiment, the better you’ll be able to see what works for you and what doesn’t. The important thing when it comes to voice is that you’re comfortable with how you’re writing. Feeling forced or trapped leads to frustration and often produces work that sounds rigid and bland. No matter what you’re writing, you should enjoy the time that you spend on it.
Developing Your Voice
It’s often been said that the best way to learn something about writing is to write. Like most creative endeavors, writing requires practice. Yet unlike practice in other, more structured pursuits, writing allows for a great deal of experimentation. It isn’t necessary to work on full stories or articles while developing your voice. Writing short scenes, character descriptions or even lists of words that you enjoy using can all work towards pinpointing the “sound” that will be characteristic of your work.
The idea of writing for specific readers applies here as well. Though your voice is uniquely yours no matter what you’re writing, you may not always stay within the same genre or work on the same type of project. Fiction and nonfiction have different audiences, as do the sub-genres within them. People who enjoy sci-fi and fantasy may not be the same as those who enjoy romance novels. Readers of scientific books differ from those who read war histories, and so on. Keep your audience in mind as you write and focus on speaking to them through your work.
Likewise, don’t be afraid of emotions. Feeling is one of the things that contributes to a writer’s voice. If you’re working on a scene that has you laughing, crying or gasping, don’t hold back. Run with the mood and let it flow into your writing. By doing this, you bypass the inner editor that so many writers dread. Instead of worrying about how your writing sounds, you’re putting exactly what you’re thinking and feeling down on paper. When you’re truly moved by something, so will be your readers.
Never Stop Learning
Reading is an essential part of searching for and developing your voice. To be a good writer, you must be an avid reader. Everything you read is research for your own work. When you’re enjoying a novel, take the time to ask yourself what you like about the writer’s tone, style and approach to the story. If a news article inspires you, study the elements that you like best. By taking the time to pay attention to the things about other writer’s voices that engage you as a reader, you’ll gain valuable tools for use in your own writing.
Whether you’re aiming to write light-hearted children’s books or analytical articles filled with hard facts, having a unique, recognizable voice is an important part of your work.
Voice identifies a piece as yours and draws in readers. Once you establish your voice, you’ll find that writing comes more easily, goes more smoothly and is more enjoyable overall.