Friday, March 20, 2015

How You Say It

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

I was a mouthy teenager, constantly getting myself into trouble. In truth, I was a know-it-all, something my poor mother tired of quickly.

In turn, she threw a phrase at me:

And while I didn't appreciate the admonition at the time, I heard it so often the words sewed themselves onto my brain. Now, when I sit down to write, I feel the pull of those stitches and I remember: It's not just the story that matters, but the tone and the words and the tenacity with with I combine them all. 

It's my voice.

Stick around the writing world long enough and you'll hear more talks on VOICE than you will just about any other subject. You'll sit there with your notepad and your pen, with your ears pricked and your heart thundering, and your fingers will be aching to scratch down that one piece of magical advice that will turn your froggish manuscript into a princely thing worthy of publication.

You know what I've found in those sessions? The thing I've noticed? Within the tantalizing words and the killer advice, there is a void. An empty space on the canvas of my creativity that refuses to be colored in by the thoughts of someone else. That guy up there, the one with the microphone and the fancy client-list, he can point you in the right direction and he can tell you what's worked for others, but the crafting of your voice is something only you can do.

And if you're to be a writer, you must take this seriously. Your voice matters. How you say whatever it is you have to say, matters.

Voice, I think, is the result of how you see the world, the books you've ingested, the vocabulary you've acquired and that intangible thing inside of you. The thing that makes you uniquely you. Your soul? Sure, let's call it your soul.

And your soul must be fed.

Go outside. Look at the world. Watch people. Talk to yourself about what you see and hear. Sketch it, if you're so inclined. Retell yourself life events. Tell them from different perspectives. Then write them. Play with metaphors. Change them. Make them your own.

And read. Read a lot. 

One of the compliments I appreciate most as a writer is when someone says they love my voice. It's HUGE. It's that thing, you know? The thing no one else can take credit for. They can teach me to plot and to plan and to develop my story world and my characters, but no one can take credit for my voice. 

It's mine.

It is constantly developing, ever-changing, and yet often familiar to those who follow my career. It is uniquely me.

And your voice is uniquely you. 

So when you sit down to write, I hope you hear my mother's words and you remember: it's not what you say, it's how you say it.

My hope for you today is that you say it well.

There are far too many writers with amazing voices for me to name all my favorites, but today I was thumbing through my old copy of Memoirs of a Geisha and I was reminded just how beautiful Arthur Golden's voice is. No one could have told that story the way he did.

Whose voice do you love? Which authors are on your auto-buy list? You know, the authors whose books you'll read regardless of the plot. The authors you read because their voice makes any story worth your time.


  1. In my several years writing, I think this past year I've finally figured out my voice! It's made such a difference. I feel much more involved in the plot and characters than I ever have before. Thanks for the encouragement, Mrs. Dittemore!

  2. This is so true! I don't think I've found my voice in my writing yet, but I'm working on it. :)

    When I read stories authored by different friends, I can definitely see their (contrasting) voices, and it's *amazing*! One friend *adores* classics (like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens), and her writing voice is so elegant and rich; it's just gorgeous! I wouldn't be able to recreate it even if I tried, and that's what makes it so special to her! If all my writing friends were to write on the exact same topic, each of their results would sound completely different, and yet each one would be beautiful because of their different voices! :') It's so amazing asdfghjkl! :D

    An author on my auto-buy list is one of my best friends (who isn't published . . . YET! Yet. :D ), Emma. She has an absolutely *amazing* writing voice. She's always emailing me her stories to read, and no matter the topic, I finish each story astounded because her voice is just so amazing! She knows how to knit words together to perfection!

    Thanks for the brilliant post!!

    -Koko :)

  3. Anne Elisabeth Stengl. <3 She could write about, I don't know, how paint dries, and I would buy it and love it because it would be beautiful. I don't even know how to describe her voice, it's just . . . perfect.

    1. Because some how she would make paint drying seem like such an elegant occurrence that even the fairies stop to watch it.

  4. Anne Elisabeth Stengl has the greatest voice ever-- the kind that has you holding your breath as you read.

  5. Thanks for the lovely post!

    I absolutely adore Lucy Maud Montgomery's voice, though whether because it fits my definition of a great voice or because I've read her books so many times that they established said definition, I'm not sure. Yet she doesn't exactly follow modern conventions. (Not surprising, given how long ago she lived and all, lol...) I mean, it'd be quite a struggle to diagram her stories a la hero's journey/story beats/plot mountain; she often inserts long flowery descriptions of nature; many of her dialogue tags have adverbs; and she head-hops shamelessly, albeit on a small scale. But the "Anne of Green Gables" books are some of the most beloved on many a bookshelf.

    Maybe it's the shamelessness of it that makes it seem natural. Her voice seems so...comfortable with itself, if that makes sense. Which I guess just goes to that we have writing conventions now to sharpen a story into something bright and beautiful, but like you said so eloquently in your post, it's that intangible thing inside you that matters. I have a tendency to get paralyzingly caught up in whether I'm writing my story Right to the point that it's hardly *my* story. I turn writing tips into lawn chemicals that wipe out the flowers as well as the weeds. I want a list of rules that will make me sound like a Sophisticated Person instead of my silly little self. But when I re-read my old first drafts, I see the moments where I was being my silly little self and was painfully aware of it at the time, and I end up loving them the most.

  6. Voice is incredibly important, and one of the things I get really stuck on. Especially when you need to practice it so much depending on the character or the idea, it can be frustrating to find the real niche you want to explore. But, I should also point out, it is well worth it!

  7. I don't know that I've completely found my voice yet. I see similarities in my writing when I write essays or short stories, but I still don't think it's fully there yet. I know how important it is for readers because voice is always something that can pull me into a story, but it's also a very difficult thing for a writer to master. I agree that reading is essential to finding your voice, and I've found that a lot of writers take on a voice that fits the books they most often read. I guess all I can do is keep on reading and writing.

  8. I absolutely know what you mean by voice and its something that i strive for so much - and the few times people have complimented me on that have just made my day.

    Katherine Paterson is one of those authors that ill read no matter what, and Patricia MacLachlan.

  9. Are there any tips that you can give to get to know your voice? Because either my voice isn't showing through, or since it's me I just don't realize that there is something there. Like if you have an American accent, that's going to sound weird to someone from Britain, but you don't realize its there because its the way you talk naturally. Is it the same for your book? Or is it supposed to be obvious.