Feb 11, 2015 · 44 Comments
It's not just a judgey TV show, that's for sure!
One of the things you will hear writers, agents, and editors say a lot is how important "voice" is. When I started writing, the whole concept boggled me. At first I thought it had something to do with dialogue, which it sort of does. But, over all, voice is mostly about you, the writer. It's a tricky thing to define, and a trickier thing to find for yourself. Once you find it, you'll know and much celebrating will happen!
I know what you're thinking, "That didn't help much!" And, you're right.
Let me try a bit harder.
I bet you've noticed that when you read different books from your favorite author that there are certain things--hard to describe things, sometimes--that seem familiar. You might even be able to pick out a story written by them, even if there's nothing telling you who wrote the story. For instance, one of my favorite authors is Neil Gaiman, who writes all sorts of different stories. Short stories, novels, picture books, poems, screenplays, songs, and even graphic novels. But no matter what he writes, he always sounds like Neil Gaiman, even if it's a speech. That is what voice is. It is the thing that sets you apart from every other writer.
Maybe (hopefully) you've noticed in WSOTR and THE FAKE that the two main characters sound like two different people? Part of that is because Natalie and I ARE two different people, but it's also because the two of us have different voices. I often write books with two point of view characters on my own as well, and that's a lot harder, because I only have my voice to use to make two separate people sound like two separate people. It's one of the reasons Natalie and I started to write books together, in fact!
One of the things I've always loved about Natalie is that she has a very consistent voice. I could pick out something she wrote if it were hidden among a hundred other authors' work. Mine changes a bit, depending on the character (Grayson is a bit more serious than Romy was, for instance), and depending on whether I'm writing alone or with Natalie. The books I write alone tend to be humorous stories, and so they sound a bit different, but it's all still essentially ME.
Voice is one of the most important things in creating a good story, but it takes time. A lot of time! In fact, I only found my own voice a couple of books ago after writing 6 others.
So, how do you go about finding your own voice?
Oddly enough, the best advice I know for this is the same as it is for a lot of things with writing--you write. I think that voice appears as you get more confident and relaxed about your writing, and like any skill, the best way to get confident is by doing it. Over and over. When I first started, I wrote like my favorite authors (or tried very hard to). It helped me learn what I liked, and what I didn't. It's normal to mimic other people at first. Artists do it as a learning tool, in fact, by studying and copying paintings by old masters. That's how artists find their own personal style, and how writers can find their own personal voice too. Once I was relaxed enough about writing that I could forget about technique or grammar or structure, and I started to write the story like I would tell it to a friend, bam, I found my voice.
Like everything with writing, you never stop learning and developing. For instance, I've always found it really easy to use MY voice when writing for middle graders, but struggled to make it work for teens (Grayson is helping with that!). Then last night, I worked on a book I'm writing for older teens and suddenly, there it was. My voice! Yippee!
Voice is, I guess, a combination of style, technique, and just plain you-ness. It's a pain to find it, but once you do, it glues everything else you've learned together.
So there you go. That's my take on voice!
Have you noticed things that make your favorite authors unique?