Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.
Hey, guys! After spending all last week getting my son transitioned to the ketogenic diet, I'm slowly easing my way back into regular life. (Or as regular as life can feel when you weigh every bit of food that goes in your son's mouth and tell him regularly, "No, buddy, you can't eat that.") Thanks so much for your patience and kind words of encouragement last week! Still a lot of work ahead of us, but we're feeling pretty optimistic.
|Connor napping in the hospital with a picture his sister made for him.|
If you hang around the writing community for very long—or read any articles about what agents and editors like to see in a manuscript—you will quickly come across the term "voice." Agents and editors love a writer with a lot of voice. They're a sucker for voice. They want a voice that draws them in.
Voice is simply the unique way that you string words together as a writer. Where the concept really gets murky is when you try to factor in character voice too. Your characters have unique voices (or that's what we're all striving for, anyway) so where does that fit in? That's actually a different post for a different date. Today we'll just focus on author voice.
How do you go about learning to write with a unique voice? While it isn't as simple as learning to write active sentences or cut adverbs, I do think it's a skill you can hone.
First, let's talk about why you talk the way you do. I think that'll help clarify what goes into your author voice. Your word choices, phrases, and accent are a combination of a lot of things. The way your guardians talk. Your age. The part of the country you live in. Your education. It's also influenced by the way your friends talk, the books you read, the music you listen to, and the movies and TV shows you consume.
As you age, as your social circles change, and as you fall in love with different books or movies, you probably notice changes in how you talk, right? When I watched The Office all the time, I couldn't stop saying, "Absolutely." It was ingrained in me. When I was on a steady diet of Jane Austen novels, my husband would ask where I put the lotion, and I would respond, "Tis in the bathroom cabinet." I wasn't trying to sound like Miss Austen, but it was the language I had surrounded myself with.
What does this phenomenon have to do with writing? It means you can intentionally flavor your writing voice same as you can your verbal speech patterns. I think the best ways to do this for a novelist are through reading and writing:
Developing your writing voice with reading:
First of all, why reading? Why not movies or TV too? While they certainly can play a part in developing your voice, I think it's important to study great works of whatever art it is you're wanting to create. So if you're writing a screenplay, by all means, soak up some movies!
The first step for doing this is to pick great books to read. They don't have to be great in the sense of Dickens and Tolstoy and the like. I'm talking about any book where the writing makes your heart quicken. Where the word choices are perfect, the descriptions paint pictures in your mind, and the story world is vibrant.
If you're reading like a writer (and we can't help ourselves, can we?) this is going to impact how you write. It's going to push you to write better because you're exposing yourself to greatness and you'll demand the same from yourself.
I loved this piece of advice that John Maxwell received from a friend: "Our lives are like heating a
To be clear, this isn't about copying another writer's voice. You're not trying to write like John Green/Shannon Hale/Markus Zusak. You're looking at what they've done—a clever description, a creative metaphor—and asking how you can do something similar. You're warming up your own fire poker, not trying to weld yourself to someone else's.
Developing your writing voice by writing with your door closed:
All writers work differently, and we all have different personality types. With that said, I'm a big believer in the benefits of writing a book with your door closed. By which I mean, your first draft is private business.
I love brainstorming with my writing friends before and as I work on a project. And once I've cleaned up my second draft, they provide tremendously helpful feedback. But I don't email them scenes or chapters as I write, nor do they ever see a first draft. (Shudder.)
One of the reasons is that if I let too many voices in, it jacks with my voice. I honed my author voice by writing in isolation for years. As lonely as I felt sometimes, I think it was really good for my craft.
In my opinion, the old writing adage is correct. The first draft you write is for you. The second draft is for others. While I certainly think through marketability and who my target reader is before I write my first draft, when I'm working I'm not thinking about what others will say. No one's going to see it. Not yet, anyway. Stripping away that fear helps me to get more honest, and honesty is critical to developing your voice.
Try it for yourself!
Grab one of your favorite books and find a passage you really like because of the language. Read it several times, breaking down the mechanics of it. What is it that you like? Why does it work?
Now, grab a piece of paper (or the manuscript you're working on) and try to write something that uses what you just learned. Tell us how it goes in the comments section!