I’ve been having a great conversation with Serena Yung in the comments of one of my posts about voice from a few weeks ago, so voice has been on my mind again this week. When I found a fantastic article by author Julie Leto about voice and how it relates to our writing, I knew I had to blog about it.
Julie shares a quote by Laura Backes of the Children’s Book Insider that I love:
“The voice is what beckons the reader to curl up with a book and whispers, ‘Pay attention. I’m going to tell you a story.'”
“I’m going to tell you a story.” That concept goes along with my other favorite voice concept by Janice Hardy:
“[V]oice is that sense there’s a person behind the words.”
I’m going to tell you a story. There’s a person behind the words. Voice is intimacy. Voice is what invites readers to join the characters in their journey.
What Goes into Our Voice?
How do we invite readers to come closer? Many people have tried to identify what goes into creating our voice, but it’s a hard thing to define. We often just know it when we see it.
In her article, Julie shares what she sees as the five most important elements of voice:
How much do we use? How many senses do we evoke? What tone do we take when we write? The importance of description to us as authors and how we use it comes down to the types of stories we innately want to tell.
What types of characters do we gravitate toward while we’re writing? Some of us write stronger alpha males than others, some write snarkier women. The common threads between our characters—from one heroine to another or one hero to another—give insight into our voice. This doesn’t mean we can’t create characters who aren’t a good match for our voice, but they might be harder to write.
What are our writing habits? Do we end scenes or chapters on cliffhangers? Do we write with a lyrical quality or are our sentence more choppy? The words we use and how we break up sentences, paragraphs, and chapters all act as one ingredient of our voice.
Do we write beat-driven plots where readers sense when big events occur? Or do we write plots where one event blends into the next? What kind of villains or secondary characters do we write, and what kind of conflict do they create?
- Premise and Theme:
What’s the big picture and/or theme of our stories? Writers typically revisit similar themes over and over. At the high level, we might also write stories with similar premises. Heroines who discover how special they are. Heroes who must fight to get what they want.
Did you notice what all those things have in common? We find the commonalities we tend to gravitate toward after the fact—after we have multiple stories to compare.
Gaining a Voice Takes Lots of Practice
In other words, we have to practice writing a lot before we become good at recognizing what makes our writing ours alone and what makes our voice unique. I didn’t recognize my voice until I started my third story. Julie said it took her the same number of manuscripts.
She also points out that we can’t explore any of those elements with our voice until we have the craft down. If we’re still struggling with plot structure, our unique approach to plotting won’t be as clear. If we’re still head-hopping, the point-of-view of our characters won’t be deep enough to show who they really are. Same with the other elements.
We Have a Voice, Now What?
Let’s say we’ve written enough that we have a clear idea of what makes our voice unique, what do we do with that knowledge?
When we know the idiosyncrasies of our voice, we know what types of stories are a good match for us. Maybe we’re writing YA stories but our voice would work well in adult fiction. Maybe comedy would be a better match than suspense. Or maybe our plotting approach would fit novellas more than novels.
In other words, once we know our strengths, we can play to them. Julie calls this writing “a book of our voice” rather than chasing “the book of our heart.” We can discover the types of stories we truly love to write. And in many cases, those stories will be easier to write than if we fight our natural tendencies.
This knowledge might help us decide between multiple shiny projects. Does one story idea fit our voice better than the other? If so, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t write the other one, but we’ll be aware upfront that we might find it more difficult.
Also, the more we know our voice, the more we’ll be able to resist misguided suggestions from others. One of my beta readers struggled with her editor because she tends to write dark stories and her editor wanted her to make a story fluffier and happier. She’d have been miserable if she tried to fit that box. Knowing the stories that fit her helps her know when to say “no.”
Know Thyself and Others Will Too
We’ve all heard how we should write multiple stories rather than editing the same one over and over. That advice isn’t just about making sure we’re moving forward.
Writing new stories with new characters and new plots and new premises all works together to help us find the commonalities in our writing. Those commonalities inform our voice, the stories we like to write, and the stories that might be easier to write.
Interestingly enough, being aware of those commonalities can also help us create our brand. Readers would know that we’ll give them a story with X kind of characters, Y kind of style, or Z kind of plot. (“Ooo, she writes the best tortured heroes.”) And readers who know what to expect from our writing—even if we switch genres—might become fans of us rather than just readers of our books.
How well do you know your voice? Can you describe it in regards to those five elements? If you’ve written multiple stories, how many did it take for you to have a clear idea of your voice? What do you think of the “book of our voice” idea? Did you gain any other insights from Julie’s article?Pin It