Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Writer's Voice

A Writer’s Voice
By Brad R. Cook

Finding one’s voice is the toughest thing a writer has to do, but it's the most important thing a writer needs to master in order to become published.

So what is voice? It’s almost easier to talk about what voice isn’t than what it is. It isn’t your character’s voice, it isn’t beautiful prose, or just writing stuff down. Voice is about style, your style, and when it’s done right, people can read any page you’ve ever written and recognize your voice.

So how do I know about voice? Lots of hard work. In 2011, I headed off to the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York with a good book, compelling story, great characters, and it was even on trend. My pitches went great, but all the agents had one main criticism – my voice. One agent told me I needed to work on my middle grade voice and another agent described me as “Thick.” I wasn’t even certain what that meant. Not enough white space on the page? Was my diction wrong? Did I info-dump too much? But it wasn’t any of those things.

The problem was my voice. I sounded like a professor, not quite as bad as Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller, but it was overly wordy and lacked that edge-of-your-seat tension. I worked hard to improve my voice, but I have to admit I had no idea how to start. Voice was something I had never had issue with until I started writing novels, so I went back to my roots, where I began as a writer – the theater.

One thing I love about writing plays is that voice is already built in. There is a syncopated rhythm to the theater, to the dialogue, that lends itself very well to voice. A great play doesn’t drag. It creates a rhythm that takes the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions, from the heights of comedy to the depths of tragedy. So I learned to find that rhythm in my writing.

It took a couple of scripts, some short stories, and maybe one or two blog posts, but I rediscovered my voice. I even rewrote that novel, now it’s a young adult instead of a middle grade, but that’s where my voice was most comfortable. Writing for kids takes a unique voice.

So what did discover about voice? To sum up, it’s a mix of your character’s voice and your own. But there is so much more.

How does a writer find or improve their voice? Start by making certain you’re writing the right material:
The Right Genre – Trying to smash some mystery into an urban fantasy paranormal romance, maybe you should just focus on writing mysteries.
The Right Tense – Not certain if present or past is best – try them both!
The Right POV – If third person doesn’t feel right? Maybe attempt the same story in first person. Exploring different tenses and points of view allows a writer to discover what suits their voice best.
The Right Attitude – Make certain the tone fits with the character’s mood and that tone of the writing matches the scene. Think of music in a movie, how it helps to mold the emotion of the scene, the attitude in writer’s voice can do the same thing.

Here are a few more suggestions to help find your writing voice.
Write to connect with the reader – Most readers like voice, they might say it’s the way they write, but they mean voice.
Develop your style – it won’t happen overnight, but the more you write, the more you will define and explore your voice.
Don’t copy someone else’s voice – emulating is a good technique to explore – but every writer needs to find their own voice.
Read aloud – Can you hear the rhythm? Do the words flow together? If so, then you may have found your voice!

All the great writers found their voice and it’s what propelled them to super fame, none more so than William Shakespeare. So which author has your favorite voice – let me know in the comments.

And if you want to know author Cole Gibsen’s thoughts on voice, check out my interview with her

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