A WRITER'S VOICE by DiAnn Mills
A writer’s voice is her trademark. It can’t be developed by studying a textbook or taking a writing course. Each writer has a unique way of stringing words and sentences, a subconscious activity that is stamped with individual style, word choice, punctuation, originality, and passion for the project.
A writer’s voice is much like her conversational voice, but with a strong additive: the character’s voice. That means no two characters can sound alike. A strong writer’s voice doesn’t overpower the character but hooks the reader’s attention and refuses to let go until the end of the story.
I like how Donald Maass describes voice: “... not only a unique way of putting words together, but a unique sensibility, a distinctive way of looking at the world, an outlook that enriches an author’s oeuvre ... An original. A standout. A voice.”
Emotion is what keeps the reader turning pages. The reader cares because of the character’s unique personality and the writer’s manner of showing the story. Ease into story by connecting the reader to the character. The reader needs to trust the character, which means the first fifty pages have to be like speed-dating. A writer’s ability to dive into character and create an adventure strengthens voice.
In developing voice, weigh each word choice. Is it clear, concise, colorful, and credible? Use strong verbs and vivid nouns, the ones the character would use. Is it the best word in the character’s voice and one you’re comfortable with? A writer’s audience dictates word choice.
I went through several stages of forming my voice while following rules, not following rules, then allowing my writing to morph into my voice. When I concentrated on good writing, my voice came.
The following areas are important to me. Not that these should be part of your writer’s voice, but to give you an example of the subconscious development that is necessary.
1. I realized after much reading that I detested exclamation marks. I will stay up all night rewording scene and dialogue to eliminate the little bat and ball at the end of a sentence. I prefer word choice, characterization, and the mood of the scene to indicate emotion. However, if an editor believes it’s the best choice, I will comply.
2. I use only said as a dialogue tag. It’s an invisible word used only to indicate the speaker. The only other tag I might consider is whisper. A question mark shows the sentence is an interrogatory statement and asked is not needed.
3. I want my reading to be understood without hesitation. That means not sending the reader to the dictionary. Clarity with strong verbs and distinctive nouns are more important than the number of syllables in a word.
4. Italics bother me for internal dialogue. Always have. In my opinion, the use of italics tosses the reader out of the adventure.
Here are a few tips for developing your writer’s voice:
1. What do you value and respect about your favorite writer’s work?
2. What rules and guidelines are important to you?
3. What rules and guidelines do you consistency break?
4. What genre do you write? If you write historical romance and your voice is dark, then your voice needs to be altered.
5. List ten items you are passionate about. Every day spend twenty minutes writing about that topic. Close your eyes and simply create. It can be a story, an essay, a poem, a screenplay, a blog, or a song.
6. Use text-to-voice software to hear your work read aloud. Listen to the rhythm. Are you engaged as a listener? This is available through Adobe, and GhostReader for the Mac.
Don’t be afraid to be you. Voice is the confidence to allow your personality to shine through. Outstanding writing comes from composing one word after another. When a reader can say only (fill in your name) could have written that piece, then you have established your voice.
If you are a writer who’s looking for a guide to writing fiction, leave a comment for a random drawing of my The Dance of Character and Plot.
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THE CHASE - Zondervan - March 2012THE SURVIVOR - Zondervan - March 2013
THE DANCE OF CHARACTER AND PLOT - Bold Vision June 2013