Jeni Mawter, Australian author of YA and Tween novels, ran the last workshop I attended during the Sydney Writers’ Festival. She covered many topics including voice. Below are some tips she shared:
1. First and foremost we need to ask ourselves, who is telling the story and why? This will impact our style choices for that voice.
2. When considering the style of the voice we also need to think about:
- word choice – will it be formal or colloquial, will the language be colourful or plain, will the words be simple or complex?
- Sentence length – In literary fiction sentences tend to be longer. Also, the more tension there is in a scene, the shorter the sentences.
- Tense – while past tense is the most popular, present tense often makes the story more immediate.
- Point of View – First person is intimate yet limiting. Third person is more distant but the writer has a lot more freedom.
- Emotions – the way these are conveyed varies with gender. Males tend to feel emotion through action. Females respond through thought and feeling. Also, emotional scenes gain more impact if the language is simple, so take out all the adverbs and adjectives.
- Humour – likeability is often closely related to humour. For example, Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs was likeable because of his wicked sense of humour.
- Attitudes – do you want a cocky voice or a quiet one, a carefree voice or a thoughtful one?
- Rhythm – lyrical language and rhythms are often found in literary texts.
- Grammar, punctuation and spelling – will these be formal and proper or will the voice include a more relaxed approach?
3. Practise and practise again. Have a willingness to rewrite and rewrite again.
4. Study. Become a people watcher. Be observant, not judgemental.
5. Read books with a strong voice and analyse how the writer succeeded.
Can you think of other tips to gain a unique voice? Can you name any books that have a strong, unique voice you liked?
Note: Still down with flu... sniffle.