Posted by Kristen Hamilton on September 28, 2018 at 9:00 AM
What is a writer's voice? As an author, is it important that you have a unique "voice"? And can every writer have a distinctive writing voice? These are some of the questions my clients ask me.
To determine what your writing voice is, take a look at your writing. What words do your readers use when describing your work? What do they like most about your stories? What common themes or messages are in your books? How do your books make readers feel?
Some Ground Rules . . .
There are 3 things that make up an author's "voice." An author's voice is a mix of the perspective that the author chooses to write in, the author's style, and the overall tone of the book.
- Perspective: The perspective that the author chooses to write in is the vantage point from which the story is told. Depending on which perspective you use in your story, readers might come away with a different feeling. Is your perspective positive, negative? How do position the story for your readers to understand it? If you rewrote Cinderella's story from the evil stepmother's perspective, readers might sympathize more with the evil stepmother and see Cinderella as less perfect and innocent.
- Style: An author's style is all about the mechanics: the types of words that the author chooses, the rhythm and flow of sentences. In David C. Shaw's Brain in a Jar, for example, the author used more high-level vocabulary words because the main character was a genius-turned-computer. In your book, you can use a mix of short and long sentences to create beautiful prose. Offset longer paragraphs with short, one-sentence paragraphs, especially to draw attention to something.
- Tone: These two things together make up the overall tone of your book. The tone you adopt in your book might be serious and aloof, friendly and intimate, or funny and lighthearted. Everything from the perspective of the story you're telling to the words and style you use affects the overall tone of the book. The tone can also change throughout the book: A major scene where an important character dies should have a more somber tone, for example.
As you continue to write, you'll find that your writing falls into certain patterns. If you choose perspectives that focus on women empowerment, like in Tanya S.M. Kennedy's An Assassin's Redemption, that is part of your author voice. If you use a unique style of writing—heavy on the em dashes, for example—that's part of what makes your author voice one-of-a-kind. Finally, the topics you cover, whether they are funny or serious or thought-provoking, those play into the tone of your book, and further develop your overall voice.
Finding your author voice will take years to accomplish. And if you're not there yet, experiment! Try on different personas as you write. Do you want to be a serious writer? A relatable one? How do you want your readers to feel when they're cozied up with your book? Is your writing concise and to-the-point, or is it flowery and descriptive?
How to Develop your Author Voice
If you're still lost, you can keep certain thoughts in mind when writing. Consider these 3 things when developing your author voice.
1. Be concise. Don't ramble. Your most powerful writing—the writing that will make you most memorable—will be to the point. Having a level of description in your book is good, but when it takes the author 3 pages to say something that could be said in a paragraph, your writing is not concise enough. Trim it down to distill your writing. Be specific. An important part of showing versus telling, being specific means you'll use specific terms and exciting verbs. Be sure your ideas and main points are clear.
2. Know your reader, and what resonates with them. Is your target reader a teenage girl, ages 14-17? If so, it's time to brush up on your use of slang words and understand what kids these days are talking about, thinking about, or doing. Readers will only connect with your work if they feel they are understood, and as the author, it's your job to ensure that you can speak to them effectively. The topics you discuss in your books—and your characters' understanding of these issues—should be aligned with your readers' ideals.
3. Remember perspective, style, and tone. How are you using these to tell your stories? These may be difficult at first to master, but as you write, you'll find that you have a natural "voice." After you've published several books, readers will come to expect the same type of feeling they had when they read your previous work.
Evaluating the author's voice is one aspect of my manuscript critique service. These are the questions I ask myself as I'm reading my clients' work:
- Does the writing style seem original? (Make sure your writing doesn't rip off any well-known authors.)
- Does the writing tone and style work well for the story?
- Does the writing have too many clichés or tired phrases (like "All of a sudden") or colloquial language or filler words (like "so," "very," or "really")?
- Does the writing sound like the author is trying to impress his/her audience with complex words or sentences?
Work on your own to develop your author voice as much as possible, but know that when you send your book to a professional book editor, he or she will help you further develop and polish your writing style.
Above All . . . Find What Works for You
If there's one piece of advice I'd recommend for a new author: Stick with a specific writing style. If you choose to write in first person, stay with first person for all your books. If you discuss hard issues within a certain context (for example, Susan B. Roara's The Right Family series talks about family issues), stay within that vein.
If you find something that works for you, commit to it. That one thing will make you stand out from all the other fiction authors—as long as you're consistent with it.
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Book editor Kristen Hamilton is the owner and sole employee of
Kristen Corrects, Inc., where she provides manuscript editing
services for traditionally and self-publishing authors. Several
authors whose books she has edited have won awards and have
topped Amazon's best sellers lists.
Reading is Kristen's passion, so when the workday is over, she
can usually be found curled up with a good book alongside her
four cats. She loves watching cat videos and scary movies,
eating pizza, teaching herself French, and traveling, and she is
likely planning her next vacation. She lives outside of Boise, ID.