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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question focuses on how to find your writing voice. If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.
Have you ever struggled with how to find your writing voice? That’s the topic I’ll be addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach.
Here’s a question from Éliane Thomas, a writer based in Paris, France. Here’s what she wrote in an email:
“I am not happy with my writing voice. I’m not quite sure what’s wrong with the way I sound now, but I want the tone of my writing to be more sophisticated and more interesting. Do you have any suggestions for what I can do?”
Thanks for the question, Éliane. You didn’t say what kind of writing you do, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. Voice is an issue that affects ALL writers, whether they are novelists, academics, or non-fiction writers.
I’ve written a detailed blog post about voice, and I include the link below. It intrigues me that you’ve used the word voice AND the word tone. They’re very different things.
As I say in the blog post, your voice is like a record or CD. It’s consistent, steady and memorable. Listeners don’t ever mix up Beyonce with Madonna or Drake with Elton John.
Tone, on the other hand, is more changeable. It’s like an individual song. It can sad, upbeat, romantic or angry. But it will still carry the voice of the individual performer.
To identify voice, you need to be a really serious reader. So, my first tip for you is to read well and widely. You say you want to be more sophisticated and interesting so look at the writers you admire and figure out which ones are most interesting and sophisticated to you!
Here’s the deal: Many people assume that all the writing in the world can be arranged on a continuum from bad to good. But it doesn’t work that way because everyone has a different continuum. Basically, we’re talking about taste. Think about writing like food. Just because I love blue cheese, and broccoli and olives doesn’t mean you will. What I like, you might hate. And what you hate, I might like.
So, think about the writing that YOU find interesting and sophisticated and then spend more time with it. In fact, I even suggest you copy it, word for word. This is a really good way to familiarize yourself with the techniques that your favourite writers have used. Below, I’ve included a link to a blog post I’ve written on becoming a copy cat.
As you copy, consider the kinds of writing issues that contribute to voice. For example,
- Vocabulary – do you use long words or short ones? Is their origin largely French or Anglo-saxon?
- Sentence length – how long are your typical sentences? Do they tend toward the shortish range (14-16 words) or are they, on average, longer?
- Do you favour concrete language or do you prefer to veer towards abstraction?
- What sorts of verbs do you use? Do you like colourful and specific ones or do you favour state-of-being verbs like is and was?
- What sorts of connectors and transitions do you use? Some writers put a lot of effort into connectors while others think it’s not nearly so important.
- Do you have a deft hand with figurative language? Here, I’m referring to metaphors, similes, personification and hyperbole.
My list is not complete, but it should give you a starting point as you work to identify the specific tools and techniques you can use to develop your own voice.
Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from the bestselling Canadian-born US-based writer Lori Lansens: “Aunt Lovey used to tell me that if I wanted to be a writer, I needed a writer’s voice. ‘Read,’ she’d say, ‘and if you have a writer’s voice, one day it will shout out, ‘I can do that too!’
Éliane, developing your voice or changing it is not an easy process but it is possible. It just takes persistence and determination.