Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Finding Your Voice

by Sarah Sullivan

Microphone on StandFinding your narrative voice is as fundamental to writing as breathing is to living. It is the element that imbues your work with personality and shapes the tone of your piece. A consistent voice weaves all the mechanics together and gives the reader an emotional connection to your story. Voice is the invisible and perhaps most important character in your work. 

Just like every other aspect of writing, there is no end to developing your voice. It is a constantly evolving process. As I continue to grow as a writer, I have collected some useful tools for helping me stay true to my own voice. 

1. Write down three adjectives that describe your personality and ask others to do the same. Are you witty, serious, diligent, shrewd, timid? Play with these aspects of your personality and see how they might inform your characters. 

2. Record yourself explaining a story idea.Does your writing sound like you or are you trying to fit into someone else's notion of what a character would say?

3. Be opinionated. When you feel yourself being tentative or politically correct, stop! Unless that’s who your character truly is. Readers are smart and ambiguity reads false. Be brave with your opinions. Whether readers agree or disagree with your point of view, passion is engaging. 

4. Write like no one will ever read it. It’s hard to write with an editor looking over your shoulder so don’t do it to yourself. There will be plenty of time for criticism and rejection later. If you feel tethered in your writing, you may have lost touch with your voice. 

5. Once in awhile, write something quickly and if you can (for instance on a blog) publish it! Sometimes our most authentic voice emerges when we don’t have time to overthink it. See if you get a different response from readers when you write this way. 

6. Write in first person. Even if your story is in third person, you can learn a lot about a character by climbing into their skin for awhile. Explore how it feels to be that character, what might they say? how might they feel? Then you can return to third person armed with more information and a greater understanding of your character. 

7. Finding a voice doesn't mean that your writing or characters must all be the same. Obviously if you are writing about a lady's maid in Victorian England she won't sound like Bridget Jones. We have as many voices as we have moods and you don't have to find one voice and stick with it. Sometimes it helps to copy other writers verbatim as an exercise in style. But in the end, you must have a sincere connection with and understanding of your characters motives, thoughts and feelings so they don't sound like a shallow shell or vague idea of a character. 

8. Get comfortable with the fact that you can’t please everyone. Not everyone will appreciate your particular narrative voice, but if it is unique and authentic you will find an audience. I, for instance, find Carl Hiaasen's characters egregiously annoying, but who am I to argue with wealth and success?

What tactics do you employ to get in touch with your narrative voice? 

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