Thursday, July 15, 2010

Finding Your Voice

As a writer, how do you find your voice? If you’re working on your third, fourth, fifth manuscript, look back at that very first one. What do you think of it now? Do you still have the same voice? Has it evolved? Do you feel like you’ve “found” your voice?

How did you find it? Did you find it by hearing voices in your head? Did it come to you in a dream? Probably not.

Remember, I’m talking about your voice, as the writer. Not the protagonist’s voice. Your voice.

The arrangement of the words in sentences. The cadence. The words you use. The length of the sentences, the paragraphs. What the readers hear when they’re not reading the words or thoughts of your characters. The overall voice of your book. The author’s voice. Keep in mind, that voice is not static. It can evolve. It can change from book to book. But some authors maintain their voice. You can pick up their eleventh book and know it’s them.

Chances are you may have developed yours without even thinking about it. And you may have gotten it from other writers. Writers, I believe, read differently than non-writers. We’re not always reading just for plot. There are times when a sentence catches our eye. Stops us. We re-read it; ponder its structure, the way it talks to us. We think, that’s beautiful or I never would have thought of putting it that way or, wow, that is such a unique metaphor. Sometimes we may even make note of it by highlighting or adding it to a list we’re keeping of examples of great writing.

Although we may never go back to read that list, it affects us. Not that we copy that person’s words, but we absorb what we consider “good” writing. Good writers are readers. And we learn by reading. And, over time, we develop our own voice, a lot of it based on what we consider wonderful writing.

Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and writing coach. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, Dismembering the Past, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Deadpoint, is due out in Spring 2015.


  1. I feel like my voice is still evolving. I'm a mood writer, and my voice changes to match how I'm feeling. I'm writing a lot of guest articles at the moment, and I have some readers guessing whether I'm relaxed or serious. I like that. I read a lot of Dean Koontz and I love the way his voice changes to suit the chacters and story. If I decide to write fiction I'd try to emulate that.

  2. YES! Your authorial voice shows through, somehow, even though the voice of the story may be different. And it does evolve, mostly with the evolution of one's confidence in one's ability to tell a story. My husband calls it "authority", which is an appropriate thing for an author to have. ;)

  3. I think voice is always evolving. I look back at things I wrote just six months ago and I'm already writing differently, even if it's just by a bit. I also think that sometimes you have to change your voice to fit the situation, though there's always something that's consistent and completely "you" that's there no matter what you write.

  4. That's interesting Simon. Readers guessing whether you are relaxed or serious just by your "voice."

    Marian, "authority" is a good word since "voice" can be confused with the voice of a character.

    Jenna, the author's voice does change, especially as he or she develops it and grows into that "voice."

  5. This is a really clear definition of voice. Thank you. I know I found mine a few years ago. Even when I look back at my earlier blogging, it has changed.

  6. There's a fun website circulating right now that's "I Write Like" where you feed in some of your prose and it tells you what famous author your writing is like. But it's not very accurate because if you feed in 3 different samples, you're likely to get 3 different results.

    For me, I feel like I'm using "MY" voice when the words flow and I don't really think about "writing".

  7. I feel like I'm writing in my voice when days or weeks later I re-read and not only do I think it's great, I don't even remember writing it. (Cue the Twilight Zone music.)

  8. Thanks for this explanation. I've never really understood what's meant by "voice." This makes sense and puts me at ease with my own writer's voice.

  9. I agree. Writers read differently. They analysis (and enjoy) as they go.

    I agree with Jenna "I think voice is always evolving"

  10. Holly, it does evolve from book to book. Writers who have written many books, though, tend to stabilize their voice over time, though. You can pick up a book and recognize their voice.

  11. I struggled with voice (or thought I did) until college. Then my creative writing professor had us do an exercise in which we were to imitate a favorite author's voice. But what happened was your own voice started showing through. None of us could help it! The beginning of the exercise was pure imitation, the middle was a mixture of imitation and something else, and the end was all of that something else- our voice! It's pretty amazing how your own voice appears when you're not even trying. Since then, I've learned to trust the process, listen to it, and hear my own writing voice develop.

  12. Love what Marian said about "authority". I had not equated voice to that before, but it makes perfect sense.

    Something I have realized of late is that I have different voices for my fiction depending on the genre.

    And I absolutely love it when I come across a sentence that stops me for a moment so I can savor the use of words, the voice.

  13. It is so true. I often find myself following the flow of a good book and see that a similar flow will sneak into my WIP. I like that each one is different. Changing it up a little forces us to grow.

  14. It's interesting to see my old writings and compare them to today's. I still have many of the same elements in my style or voice, but a few have changed, most for the better. I suspect I'll keep changing as I continue writing, especially since I'm writing other genres now, in addition to mystery.

  15. Oh I hate looking back. My immaturity shows through so much in my older manuscripts. I had good stories and plots, but the writing itself ... I cringe.

  16. I didn't give a thought to voice until people started telling me the liked mine...I'm still not sure how it got here...

  17. Maryann, I love those moments too!

    Good point, Lisa, we do grow as writers.

    Patricia, I suspect you'll see a bit of your nonfiction voice bleed into your fiction, but you'll develop your own way of telling the fiction story.

    You're not alone Miss Rosemary. Most of us cringe when we read old material.

    The good news, Liza, is that you're writing in your voice without having to think about it.

  18. The one thing I can't tell about my own work is what my voice is like. I've always wondered about it myself. I'd ask my critters but I'm not sure if any of them would know how to describe an author's 'voice'. It seems like such an intangible thing.

  19. I think it feels intangible because each author's voice is different. Some are so distinctive you could read a book with the cover hidden and you'd know the author. Others are still being developed, not yet set in cement. And even others have different voices for different series.

  20. Another great post!

    Thanks for sharing, Helen :)

  21. You can't really help your early voice--it's ind of like the apprenticeship. You imitate all the favorite books and writers that spoke to you.

    I was a bizarre mishmash of Hemingway, Vonnegut, Bradbury, and King and it took several hundred thousand words to settle into something I think of as "me." Yet I can also go completely out in left field. Short fiction is a great place to experiment with new voices.

    Thanks for the great post, Helen!

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  23. "We’re not always reading just for plot. There are times when a sentence catches our eye. Stops us. We re-read it; ponder its structure, the way it talks to us. We think, that’s beautiful or I never would have thought of putting it that way or, wow, that is such a unique metaphor. Sometimes we may even make note of it by highlighting or adding it to a list we’re keeping of examples of great writing."

    Thank you for this paragraph. I couldn't agree more. Plot is important but so is language. And I sometimes think writers forget about this in this fast-paced, action-driven world.
    Christa Polkinhorn, Author.


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