Based on what I hear wherever I speak, it’s clear that beginning writers agonize as much over find their writing voice as over any other issue.
Trust me, while it’s crucial you find your unique writing voice, it really isn’t all that complicated.
You wouldn’t be able to tell that from the plethora of blogs, articles, and books on the subject.
Google “writing voice” and you’ll spend the rest of the day and night immersed in opinions.
So let me make this simple.
What is Voice in Writing?
It’s your distinct:
It’s the lens through which you see yourself and the world.
Your voice sets the tone and conveys your message in your own unique way.
How to Find Your Writing Voice
Try this exercise. Consider:
- The coolest thing that has ever happened to you
- The most important person you told about it
- What you sounded like
That’s as complicated as it needs to be.
How it works and a personal (embarrassing) example:
- The highlight of my life was realizing that I’d met the woman who would become my wife.
- I couldn’t wait to tell my best friend, who happened to work overnight at a gas station.
- I sounded as interested in my story as in anything else I’d ever said.
After leaving my beloved, I drove nearly three hours in the wee hours, pulled into that gas station, and made my friend give me his full attention.
I hopped atop a 55-gallon oil drum and told him all about Dianna—and I mean everything.
What she looked like, sounded like, how she acted, how much I loved her, that he would be in the wedding…
“Wedding?” he said. “Does she know about this?”
“She will soon enough,” I said, and for two hours I rhapsodized about a woman with whom I’d spent not much more time than that. (We’ve been married since 1971.)
When I climbed down off that drum I realized I‘d been sitting in a quarter inch of motor oil the entire time. It had soaked through my pants and down my legs.
When I arrived home at dawn, my mother took one look at me and said, “You’re in love.”
My voice in this anecdote is obvious. I was smitten.
What should your writing voice sound like?
Imagine telling your best friend, “Have I got something to tell you…”
What comes next will be in your most passionate voice.
You at your most engaged is the voice we want on the page.
How do you use your own writing voice in fiction?
You transfer your voice to your perspective character. If you don’t know your protagonist well enough to do that yet, you have more work to do.
Examples of Voice in Writing
1. Hometown Legend is a novel I wrote from the perspective of a football coach:
“Name’s Cal Sawyer and I got a story starts about thirteen years ago when I was twenty-seven. Course, like most stories, it really starts a lot a years before that, but I choose to tell it from Friday, December 2, 1988, when I’m sitting with my kindergarten daughter Rachel in the stands of my old high school. We’re watching the state football championship in Athens City, Alabama, almost as south as a town can be without being ocean.”
2. New York Times bestselling author of the Junie B. Jones children’s series, Barbara Park, was known for her sense of humor. She once told a fan, “I’m not sure I’m grown up enough to write grownup books.”
From Junie B. Jones, First Grader: Toothless Wonder:
“Yikes! It’s a loose tooth! One of Junie B. Jones’s top front teeth is loose! Only, Junie B. is not that thrilled about this development. Because what if she looks like toothless Uncle Lou? And even worse…what’s all this tooth fairy business? Like, who is this woman, really? And what does she do with all those used teeth? So many questions, so little time.”
3. Mark Twain wrote with a distinct voice. From The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:
You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.
4. John Grisham is known for his legal thrillers. From The Testament (1999), written from the perspective of billionaire Troy Phelan:
Down to the last day, even the last hour now. I’m an old man, lonely and unloved, sick and hurting and tired of living. I am ready for the hereafter; it has to be better than this.
Whether writing nonfiction or crafting fiction from the perspective of your main character, your unique voice should set you apart.