Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tips for Gaining Voice in Writing

What is voice?
Voice is an elusive element in writing. It can be a subtle thing, or as obvious as a snarky main character. However, voice is more than a single character’s way of speech. Voice is the individual writer’s way of presenting setting, plot and characters. It is a writer’s style that is uniquely the author. It can’t be copied (at least, not easily or well).

How is voice achieved?
Voice is written from the heart of the author—that deep place that makes us individual. From personal experience, I’ve found that voice is easiest to achieve when I’m not fretting about writing rules, when I’m not worrying what others will think of my stories. It takes courage and practise to put yourself on the page for all to see.

Don’t copy another author’s style. It won’t work and the story will likely fall flat in the attempt. You have to find your own style.

Don’t apologise for who you are. Find the courage to be yourself when you write.

Write a fast first draft to keep the doubts at bay. Remember you can fix anything later.

First learn grammar and punctuation, then don’t be afraid to break the rules if your story is calling out for it.

Learn to listen to your story. It will tell you how to write it.

Read not just a lot, but copious amounts. Absorb stories and styles. Be inspired, learn what works and what doesn’t.

Then write. And write some more.

How have you developed your voice? In your opinion what books have included a great voice?

Thanks to Claire Lachance for the Versatile Blogger Award. Please visit her great blog and say hi from me.


  1. Congrats on the award, and good thoughts on voice! As far as copying, a lot of writers TRY to copy when they write fanfic. Some do quite well, actually (my daughter wrote Harry Potter ones).

    Hey, and ghostwriting is all about copying a style--now there's an odd profession. Writing like Carolyn Keene for the Nancy Drew series, for instance, or other series when the real author has passed away or is no longer interested in writing the series.

    Just thought I'd be contrary and bring those up. LOL Personally, I'd rather have my own unique style than to pretend to be someone else!

  2. Great advice!

    At first I learned by copying other writing styles. I have all sorts of short stories written in the voices of classic and modern authors.

    As much as I agree that your specific voice shouldn't be the copy of another writers' voice, copying was what worked for me in the beginning. And I still steal tidbits from all sorts of different writers.

  3. I admire the 'voice' of Preston and Child's books, and Timothy Zahn's Star Wars books. I doubt I managed to imitate either of those, but hopefully I have my own voice. I just write the way I see it I guess.

  4. The best example of voice, in my personal opinion, is Holden Caulfield. J. D. Salinger, above all other writers, made me imagine an entire man based solely on his digressionary, meandering, first-person ramblings.

    I first read it when I was sixteen and it actually made a cusser out of me. :) Then, I read it again and again through my university days, at least once a year, and the way that six-foot tall, early-greying, angry young man invited me into his head and let me hang out there, comfortable and welcome, formed my first experience falling in love, quite literally, with simply words on a page.

    I think voice is a little like that.

  5. the tips in this one were especially great, Lyndy! Don't copy, don't apologize and listen to your story .. good ones. And be inspired.

    If a writer doesn't have a voice (as we've often seen) does it mean he or she doesn't have a heart? :) It might, since most of the voiceless writers write like robots.

  6. I think every agent blog I read has mentioned, at some time or another, that voice is usually the make-or-break quality of submissions.

    It's hard. I've developed my voice by pretty much experimenting with the different tips you've listed. But it's more than that. It's being the story (if that makes sense). I'm not sure I nailed it yet.

  7. I can't really say it any better! Thanks for a great post. 'To thine own self be true ' comes to mind

  8. It takes a lot of practice and confidence-building to know what you can get away with and to develop a unique voice. For me, writing only to please myself on the first draft is the first step to finding it (and then I try not to water it down too much during revisions).

  9. There are so many writers' voices I admire, but the only voice I can write is my own. :D

  10. Carol, oh yes, for sure. Fanfic and ghost writing is a whole different kettle of fish. But that's about someone else's voice, not your own.

    Heidi, that's true. It works the same way in art as well. It's a good way of learning technique.

    Alex, writing the way you see it is often the best way to do it.

    Suze, what an amazing inspiration and a great way to fall in love with words.

    Dezzy, you asked: 'If a writer doesn't have a voice (as we've often seen) does it mean he or she doesn't have a heart?' I think the heart is muffled by formula.

  11. I agree with the fast first draft. You can't let your head play games before you get the story down. Great post.

  12. I agree with the fast first draft. You can't let your head play games before you get the story down. Great post.

  13. JEFritz, that's because it's the voice that stands out from the rest. And yes, it is difficult.

    Tracy, yes, that saying matches perfectly.

    Luanne, haha yes, watering the voice down after the first draft is a real danger. I rewrote my first chapter so many times that I lost my voice. I had to edit it one more time to get it back.

    Stina, well said.

    Ciara, often easier said than done ;)

  14. Good advice! And its so true, voice is what makes it!

  15. Writing fast is good advice for this. You can lose the sense of your own voice if you overthink individual sentences.

  16. Great advice! Love what you said about knowing the rules BEFORE breaking them. I guess I have to go off and write now. And write some more :)

  17. Wow, what good advice. I've mentioned the difficulties of capturing voice before, but this beautifully articulates points to hit. I especially agree with saying to heck with the rules. I understand why they are there, but at times they hinder more than help.

  18. This is great advice. I definitely agree with the part about writing a first draft and not fretting about all the rules. I learned a lot about my voice by doing that. When I first started the draft, I was trying ti mimic others, but as I wrote more and more I found where I was comfortable, and the story was so much better because of that. Thanks for the post!

  19. For me, it's trial and error and always depends on the manuscript. Sometimes it comes easy, other times it takes a LOT of finding!

  20. These are fantastic tips, especially the second one. Thanks for sharing, Lynda! :)

  21. It's taken years to develop my voice and then years to recognize that that's my voice! It's one of the trickiest aspects of learning the craft of writing, in my opinion.

  22. Raz, you like dandelions, I take it?

    Read, thanks

    Matt, yep, over thinking is the killer.

    Sam, happy writing!

    McKenzie, I think it's important to know the rules before breaking them. The writer is in control that way and can achieve more of an impact that way.

    Tiffany, that's exactly right--the story DOES become so much better when the writer owns it.

    Colby, so, so true. For me too.

    Carrie, glad you liked.

    Lynn, ha, yes! Recognising our voice is a trick in itself.

  23. Great post, Lynda. For me, voice was THE hardest thing to get write. I write in multiple POVs and it's definitely a challenge to make every character who is narrating sound unique and authentic. The key for me was to not hold back and just really go for it.

  24. Thanks for another great post, Lydia!!! Voice is definitely your own unique style! I do so agree with writing the first draft and keeping doubts at bay. Fixing things comes later but at least your voice is captured on that first time! Take care

  25. I totally agree with you. While it's so important to study the work of the greats, we all need to find our own voice (and we each have one). The best way is just to write your first draft with your heart and keep writing.

  26. I love your tips. I'm sharing thsi one on my FB page.

  27. Great tips, especielly the speed-through-the-1st. When I re-visit, sometimes I'll think, "Wow, that was great," and others were obviously 'phoned in.'

  28. Great post! I recently read The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith and the voice really stuck out to me in that book.

  29. This is a great post, you really made points on some things that I think have really helped me understand how to gain that voice.

    Some books that I think have a great voice is one I'm reading now, A mothers tale by Camilla Noli. You can really hear the psycho and maliciousness in this woman as she tells the story and she doesn't even have to say too much to make that voice too noticeable. It's just natural.

    Before I die by Jenny Downham (one of my favourite books) shares a great voice. A terminally ill teenager speaks in a way that you know she's soaking up every moment she can before she dies. The things she says make you look at the world through her eyes and feel something in your heart glow.

  30. I just meant that it looks a lot like my ID picture, which is cool :D Awesome post, by the way. In Journalism class we spent a lot of time talking about voice.

  31. Perfect advice, Lynda. You summed it up perfectly.

    Voice is unique to every writer and we just listen to it and not stress over it.

    Thankfully I have. In my first I have several ... multiple points of view so multiple voices. A bit tricky and I am still working out some of the kinks, but the CP's and I are fixing it.

    My second novel has very strong voice. First person pov. Who can write a seventeen-year-old boy's point of view better that a man who's lived through it. LOL. Hormones flying all over the place added with a tough home life with the traumas of an alcoholic military father. A strong voice is definitely needed here.

    Congrats on the award and have a great weekend.

  32. It took me a few novels to really find my voice. I knew what it was, but translating it to the written word? I think that's the biggest hurdle writers face--learning how to own the page.

  33. great definition, Lynda! I think I've got a pretty distinct voice, but it tends to change with my moods. It's a multiple-personality voice. :D

  34. Writing, writing, writing. In the end, dumping rules that stifled my voice. I've found it can change with the kind of story I write. Have you come across that, too?

    Your voice is fab, Lynda. Keep writing!

  35. I agree, MPax, voice can change with story.

    Books with fabulous voice, IMHO, just off the top of my head and based on recent reading:

    Catcher in the Rye
    Lord of the Flies
    Catch 22
    The Kneebone Boy
    Anything by Austen
    The Higher Power of Lucky

  36. Jennifer, writing in multiple POVs is definitely a challenge.

    Old Kitty, the danger is smothering that captured voice in the edits ;)

    Clarissa, yes, exactly!

    Shelly, thanks so much

    Will, gotta love those 'wow, this is great' moments.

    Susan, the voice in the Marbury Lens is what made the book great.

    Holly, the beauty of great writing is that it looks natural.

    Raz, hehe, yep, I realised that when I visited your site and could see a bigger version of your profile pic.

    Michael, you gave yourself a challenge for your first novel and your 2nd one sounds great too.

    Crystal, 'own the page'. I like that.

    Leigh, haha! yes! mind changes with my moods too--or the music I'm listening to, lol.

    Mary, yes, some stories require a different voice, but you may find that the part of you that's unique will remain the same. And thanks for your kind words :)

    Gail, fantastic examples!

  37. Great post!

    The first novel I finished (my last WIP) had a voice, but my current project has something different. I think I've found a kind of range, though, where I'm most comfortable writing--and where the style is distinct.

    Congratulations on the award. :)

  38. This is a great post, as usual. I'm reading The Help right now and the one (and probably only) thing I like best about it are the voices of the 3 characters, Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. They are all so different, even Aibileen & Minny, who speak in similar ways. It's a difficult thing to show different voices in a multiple first person POV story. I know this personally.

  39. Excellent! Impressive!
    Thanks, Lynda! I enjoyed the visit.

  40. I hope my writing voice reflects me and who I am. I have a bit more difficulty in capturing distinctly different voices for my characters.

    Tossing It Out

  41. I struggled with voice. It took me a few years to get it. I know, I'm slow. Reading posts about it with examples from books finally got me to realize what most of my manuscripts were missing.

  42. I wondered if I developed my voice yet? I'll keep trying! Thanks for the tips!

  43. Wonderful post! I critique for several people and it's interesting to see the writer's voice in each person. It would be interesting to see if I could tell who wrote something without knowing who sent it to you.

  44. Voice can be a tough thing to master, that's for sure! I think I've finally gotten the hang of it, or at least am getting pretty close. IMHO, my favourite author for voice would have to be Janet Fitch. She just does such a fabulous job of bringing the reader right into her characters' heads.

  45. Voice can be very tough to master. But once a writer gets it, then its a wonderful thing. I envy many writers who can do wonders with getting into the skin of characters.

  46. These are great tips! And I agree that voice is a very elusive element in writing. It takes reading hundreds of books in the genre you're writing in, knowing the rules of grammar and the nuances of language and thousands of hours of writing experience to perfect one's voice. I guess that's why most agents and editors value this element of writing above all else.

  47. When I first started writing I always wondered what the heck everyone meant by voice. I was writing, that should have been enough, but now after critiquing and being critiqued, I get it. And I think you've defined it to the letter. Thanks for the great advice. :)

  48. "Don’t apologise for who you are. Find the courage to be yourself when you write." Love, love, love this.

  49. This is good. I know when I am really enjoying my writing and am really into it, I've found my voice. I know when it's not me, because it doesn't feel right.

  50. This is something I have been struggling with for a long time. I always find myself trying to write as I think the reader would like to hear it, when I do my best writing when I DON'T think like that and just write as I think the characters should sound. Does that make sense? I need to stay inside my own head and stop trying to read things from someone else's.

  51. Sage advice. I agree with the quick first draft advice. As a perfectionist I often hindered myself by editing every sentence as I wrote. I was a "constipated" writer.(: (pardon the punn). Once I threw caution to the wind, the words started flowing.

  52. I always enjoy your fantastic posts. You're so knowledgeable. It's funny how I know lots of stuff, but it gets archived and I forget until someone talks about it.

    I think I've developed my voice with every book I've written. It happens with every enduring trail I go through as it shapes me into a better person. :)

    Happy Friday!


  53. Excellent tips. Voice is such a strange thing but everyone has one. I recently read Gayle Foreman's books and loved her voice.

  54. Good post, can identify with writing a fast first draft. Although sometimes find it difficult...

  55. "First learn grammar and punctuation, then don’t be afraid to break the rules.."
    Yes. I can't stand it when people try to "realistic" dialog -- or even worse, narrative -- without learning the rules first. First learn to play the piano properly, then start jumping on it like that Jerry Lee fellow.

  56. This is great advice. I have recently been fretting about my own voice. Reading this has given me strength.
    Thank you.

  57. Voice is one of those intangibles that I constantly struggle with, along with pacing.
    This was a great post and really capsulated what I needed to hear.

    And I love what you said concerning the rules of writing. So true!

  58. And of course discover the best muse :).

  59. A really very interesting read! I hope you keep updating us with more info!

  60. Golden, that's brilliant. It often takes a couple of novels (or more) to achieve too.

    Nancy, finding a unique voice for each character is definitely one of the harder things to do.

    Lion, thanks

    Lee, yeah, it's not easy capturing those distinct voices.

    Theresa, fantastic!

    Sabrina, and never give up :)

    Sharon, being able to pick a writer from their style is a good sign of that writing achieving their own unique voice.

    Crystal, that's great to be able to say that

  61. Rachna, to get into a character's skin, I recommend role playing :)

    Nutschell, exactly. Voice is also the hardest to edit, so agents love it when a writer has already developed their voice.

    Laila, it is a difficult thing to define.

    Shannon, it took me a while to work that tip out ;)

    Amber, I find that too--when I'm enjoying the writing my voice comes out a lot clearer.

    Liz, it absolutely makes sense. I did the same.

    Andrea, hahaha, I'm a bit of a perfectionist too so I can relate to what you went through.

  62. Elizabeth, those trials do shape us and our voices.

    Liz, everyone does have one--they just have to let it shine.

    Maria, yep, it isn't always easy, that's for sure.

    Mark, haha great analogy.

    Liz, that's great to hear

    Bryce, pacing becomes easier when you attune your ear to the music of the words.

    Unikorna, yes, a muse helps.

  63. Holy 64 comments, Lynda! Look at you in all your awesomeness.

    Voice is definitely elusive. I just keep writing and practicing, hoping it will somehow show through all the muck.

  64. Shari, hehe. It takes a lot of work--just finding that voice takes a lot of work. It's all worth it, though :)

  65. Great tips! Voice is tough to master, but I think reading a lot is a huge help in this. To Kill a Mockingbird and The Help are two great examples of voice, I think.

  66. Cynthia, To Kill a Mockingbird defintiely. Great example. I haven't read the Help yet, but it's on my list.


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