Knowing and Finding Your Voice

Copyright 2001 by Shirley Jump
This article originally appeared in The Rock

Finding your true writing voice is a lot like falling in love you know it when it happens. Until then, you bumble along, trying this style and that, wondering if this is it or if a better voice is out there just waiting for you. You question and doubt, reaching nearly the point of despair before finally, your true voice comes to you and you know exactly who you are as a writer.

There are a few tricks to helping you know and find your voice. Don’t expect this to just fall into your lapit takes real listening and exploration of yourself as a writer before your voice manifests itself.

FIND IT IN OTHERS: Read widely, across genres, picking and choosing authors who are distinctive. Some authors tend to have very little voice, and it’s difficult to tell their books from others. But if you read a Stephen King and compare that to a Dean Koontz, there are definite differences in style, pattern and manner of writing. All these things, combined with an echoing premise (see below), to create a voice. Jenny Crusie has a distinctive comedic voice that is very different from Stephanie Bond’s. LaVyrle Spencer’s voice was more melodic and emotional, far different from the fast-paced Iris Johansen or the hard-hitting Suzanne Brockmann. What takes a bit more skill is telling similarly-voiced authors apart. How does Vicki Hinze differ from Suzanne or Merline Lovelace? All cover military-based novels, but each with her own voice. If you can pick up a book, open it randomly and immediately know the author without looking at the jacket, then you have discovered that person’s voice.

EXAMINE THE PARTICULARS: Another thing that sets one author’s voice apart from another’s is the level of language, the structure of the sentences and the type of verbiage chosen. Obviously, a Regency author has a much different tone from a contemporary Blaze author. Some authors, like Jayne Ann Krentz, change their voice to fit the period of their novels. Underneath it all, however, the basic sound of a Jayne/Amanda Quick novel is the same. It’s what makes her novels unique to her.

DETERMINE YOUR STRENGTHS: All authors who have a voice make the most of it by capitalizing on their strengths. For some, it’s dialogue; for others, emotional descriptions. In your own work, you are better at one thing than another. If it’s humor, then comedy is part of your voice. If it’s drama, then that is a part of your voice.

FIND YOUR THEME: This is something Vicki Hinze has talked about before in her newsletter, AIDS FOR WRITERS. All authors, whether they realize it or not, have a common theme running through their work, whether it’s the strength of love, the theme of redemption, the saving power of truth, etc. Your theme is part of your fingerprint on your work and is part of what makes your writing sound uniquely yours.

READ OUT LOUD: Finding and knowing your voice requires listening, not just to the words in your head as you read your work silently, but to how it sounds when spoken aloud. Do you have a lot of witty repartee? A number of pauses or shortened sentences? How does your spoken work leave you feeling? All of these are elements of your voice.

When you find your authentic voice, it’s like stepping into a comfortable pair of shoes. The rhythm and pacing of your words feel right, as if they’re meant just for you. That’s not to say that writing gets a whole lot easier, just that it feels more natural. You’ll still be dragging those words out kicking and screaming some days, but they will finally be the ones that only you could have written.

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