What is your writing voice? And how to find it.

Voice is as crucial a part of writing as anything else – the characteristic style and flow of words that an author develops which inextricably associates their work with them.

Wright_Books2It often takes a while to develop. You’ll know when you have, because your revisions will stop being filled with ‘rule application’ edits – you’ll have become comfortable with the flow of your own words and won’t be going back over them thinking ‘I can’t use Oxford commas, I’ve used too many passive words’, and so on. Control of that voice is the other half of the skill, one just as important as developing it in the first place. What’s more, authors really should look to develop more than one – it helps pitch the work specifically to purpose.

One way to do that quickly, which I’ve been pushing on this blog for a while, is to examine others’ voices – to practise writing ‘in the style of’ another author. Not so that you can emulate them, but so you can better understand, through doing it, exactly how they assembled their voice. Your own will emerge from that all the more quickly.

I use four, with some sub-variations:

  1. Journalist voice. This is the one I use on the blog and for my feature articles – and it’s very easy for me to do. I can write in it about as fast as I can think. It’s deliberately chatty.
  2. Non-fiction voices. I use these in my commercially published histories, with a couple of variations depending on purpose.
  3. Academic history voice. I don’t use this very often these days. This is the one where I convey the same information as in my non-fiction histories, but using the impenetrable vocabulary, obscure terminologies and deliberately clunky phrasing that academics require in order to assert status and self-worth to each other.
  4. Fiction voices. I have more than one of these, depending on purpose.

Have you developed your voice yet? And do you use more than one? Do tell.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


13 thoughts on “What is your writing voice? And how to find it.

  1. I’m not sure if I’ve found my writing voice or not. I suspect that I have several fiction writing voices depending on the mood I wish to set. If the story is humorous, I think the voice should sound far different than if the story is serious and shortly I plan the most hideous literary death for an evil character. Sometimes the voice is different because it’s written in first-person, and the narrator should have a distinctive voice. With all that in mind, I’m not sure if I’ve found my voice any more than a schizophrenic can decide which of the many voices in his head is his own. I merely “think” I’ve found my voice. 😉

    1. More than one ‘voice’ is a bonus – and it’s important that the voice changes or is adapted depending on purpose. First-person writing particularly needs a different tone from third person (even third person locked). I’m thinking, especially, of the ‘hard boiled’ detective story with that characteristic voicing style, but it’s true of all first person writing.

  2. The curious thing in my writing voice is that in the past few months I’ve become able to tap a very Ian Shoales-ian voice. Ian Shoales is a writing persona of Merle Kessler; it’s got a very particular blend of absurdism and acerbic and cynicism and compassion. I remember when I first started hearing his recordings and then reading his writing, years ago, trying very hard to write like that, with dismal results. Suddenly, though, it’s something I can reach. Not all the time, but for some subjects.

  3. I came back to writing fiction after a break of ten years, and three years into the new stint I think my primary writing voice is finally settling down. It’s chatty, irreverent, (reflects the principal character of the novel series) and I don’t worry as much about the informality as I did when I started out three years ago.

    But the style trips me up when I shift focus away from that character’s world and I’ve found myself grappling with voice (or would that be choking?) in other novels that are harder and less humorous, My current work in progress is 1st person, which I haven’t used for nearly fifteen years and is a whole new ball game.

    I find the blogging is good practice; reviews, spoof articles or fictitious interviews are all ways of experimenting with different voices. And a final note: in one novel I included a number of fictional newspaper articles written in the styles of real newspapers – tabloid Sun, midrange right wing Daily Mail, tabloid broadsheet Independent and so on. I found it a fascinating challenge, and dare I say, I think I pulled it off.

  4. I have three primary voices. The first is my blogging voice, which is casual and conversational. It’s also used when commenting on posts, especially the posts of those I’ve interacted with for awhile. Thus, I’m more likely to utilize my dry sense of humor. The second is my more formal voice. It’s more scholarly. I don’t consider myself a scholar, but it was the voice used in college and I occasionally summon it for certain blog posts. Last is my fiction voice. I consider it still under construction, but I can say that it’s progressing. There are also all the character voices.

    1. In many ways, writers’ voices are always ‘under construction’ – especially when we expand into new areas (as writers must) – it’s all part of the broad learning curve. As Hemingway said, we are all apprentices…

  5. Great topic! Writing routinely and for a variety of purposes (journalism, blogging, books) has really helped me find my voice. Working with an agent who seemed to really “get” my voice helped hugely as well.

    1. Sounds good – yes, there are all sorts of ways to get the voice nailed. Feedback from people in the business often provides the finishing touch – on my own experience, my publishers occasionally provided constructive feedback for my stuff, which always helped. Finally they said “OK, don’t change the way you’re writing – this is exactly what we want”. Actually it sort of evolved a little further down the track I’d been on…

  6. Now that you mention it, the pieces i’ve written for archery magazines and garden columns do sound different from my fiction pieces. I jst never thought to compare the two.

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