During the days before the advent of the internet and when people actually took the time to pen a note or letter, it was much easier to hear their voice. That is one of the reasons that to this very day, I especially enjoy receiving handwritten communication because it’s as if that person is literally sitting in my living room and speaking to me. Most people write just like they speak. That’s what makes it so unique. (Can you tell I also pen poetry every now and then?)
In Literary Land, what is voice? It’s simply the way you handle words and craft them into sentences which ultimately forms your writing style.
Joe McGinnis, one of my favorite authors, is no longer with us, unfortunately. He was an investigative reporter who wrote such memorable works as Fatal Vision, The Last Brother, and Blind Faith. In the midst of collecting facts and reading depositions, autopsies, and the like, he honed his craft. I can close the hardback covers of his books and still hear his voice. In my opinion, he had the gift of being able to place a pretty bow on the top of an already beautifully wrapped present.
A portion of the writing exercise involving voice requires the skills of both a house framer and a finish carpenter. The skeleton or outline of the piece must be constructed first before putting the finishing touches on it. Just as with the building of a house, there’s a whole lot that happens between the time that the site is prepared and the foundation is poured until the carpeting is installed, the light fixtures are hung, and the exterior is painted. It’s quite often called “multiple drafts”.
Continuing with our house analogy, each of the subcontractors who work on the project don’t all sound alike. Some will be fast talkers whereas others are slow; some will be high and some will be low. Others will be happy who offset the serious ones and on it goes.
Let’s take a minute and consider items relative to voice:
- Who is your intended audience? This will have a bearing upon the voice implemented in your writing. For instance, I use a somewhat different approach when penning poetry than I do for my western fiction novels.
- It’s very important for your loyal readers to still be able to hear your voice. Prior to publishing my first book titled A Woman of Substance, my good friend, Kathi, sent me an email to let me know that she was anxiously awaiting her autographed copy. I will never forget one sentence in her message which was, “After reading it, I will be able to discern whether or not it’s your voice.” A few months later I received another email from her wherein she assured me, “Yes, I did indeed hear your voice in your book!”
- If you are using a ghostwriter or contemplating hiring one, this will take a little extra effort on your part to keep the project on course and point in order to achieve the desired outcome.
- Do you like your literary voice or do you desire to change it? If so, enlist a handful of honest and helpful beta readers and get their feedback. If you’re in the market for a significant change, select a page or two from the writing of your favorite author. Then take a page or two of your manuscript or already published book, and rewrite it using his or her voice and style. Give it a little time to percolate or marinate and determine if it was a helpful exercise. The real surprise of your writing life may come when you ascertain that another writer somewhere around the globe has done exactly the same thing using your printed words on one of the pages of your book.
- Experiment with changing point of view. If you’re penning fiction and you’re not entirely satisfied with your current writing project, try writing it in third person as opposed to first person. Take one of your scenes and write it through the eyes of at least two different characters to see what happens. In the end, there needs to be a compatible marriage between voice and point of view.
- Just for grins, read a portion of your writing to someone you have recently met. Trust me when I tell you that you will receive some valuable and insightful commentary.
- In order to write well and develop your voice, ask yourself these basic questions:
- What am I passionate about?
- What do I want to explore?
- What gives me joy?
- How can I help others?
- What genres do I not like such as Sci-Fi or Paranormal? Chances are, if we’re not keen on these to start with, why put ourselves through the wringer of trying to author one even though those types may be the hottest ones on the market?
- Do you want your voice to be heard by your readers through painting the landscape, the talking heads, tension, or all of the above?
- Make a list of ten people you know in real life. Next to their names, write a short description of each of them such as “could be a stand-up comedian” or “quiet scholarly type”, and so forth. Then make a list of ten authors you know and complete the same exercise. Chances are there will be clues that emerge pertaining to their voices. Determine which ones you want to study in depth. Ask yourself why you like that author’s voice and how you identify with it.
- Are you working with an editor? After you’ve received your final draft and before you cut him or her the check, make sure you can still hear your voice between the covers of your soon to be published book.
When it’s all said and done, please remember that there’s only one you with your unique voice.
Fine tune your voice, and Write On!