Finding Your Writer’s Voice: Part 2

Posted by: Bridgett.

Welcome back for part two of “Finding Your Writer’s Voice,” the fourth installment of our series “6 Elements of a Great Novel.”

Wikipedia defines a writer’s voice as: “the individual writing style of an author, a combination of their common usage of syntaxdictionpunctuationcharacter developmentdialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works).”

find your voiceReaders of this blog likely have noticed a difference between my writing voice and Rebecca’s. While I may write blog posts in the form of a story or take a straightforward, almost academic approach, Rebecca’s style is more laid-back, conversational, and often humorous. Our voices as novelists are even further varied.

In this segment, we will explore several factors which determine the voice behind any work of fiction, memoir, or narrative nonfiction. 

Part 2

The voice (including language, word choice, writing style, sentence structure, etc.) should:

1. Reflect the genre through its:

  • Style of language: Certain genres of fiction are more effective when written in a particular style of language. Is the story’s language elegant (fantasy, historical, & some sci-fi), gritty (detective novels, thrillers), contemporary (include slang, jargon, or dialect), humorous or quirky (contemporary fiction, swashbuckling adventures, YA, some women’s fiction or romance).
    • Here’s an example based on the story of our beloved space alien, Diviak. (Introduced in the second installment of this series.) This is Diviak’s reaction to his father’s revelation that he’s half-human, as it might appear in different genres:
      • YA: Was his dad nuts? He reread the last paragraph. Half-human? No way!
      • Fantasy: Half human? He read the missive again. Had, perchance, his father gone daft near the end of life? This could not be!
      • Humorous sci-fi: Half human? He blinked and rewound the holo-message. He’d always known his dad was a few neutrons short of an atom, but…
  • Sentence structure: Some genres may even determine how sentences are structured, word order used, and whether to use contractions. If the genre or a particular character calls for more formal style, few contractions may be used. Also, if the language is a bit old-fashioned, those contractions may be different from the ones used in modern speech (’tis, shan’t, etc.). Word order also offers a clue to genre:
    • Contemporary: “I don’t know what to think.”
    • Fantasy or Historical: “I know not what to think.”
  • Tone and pacing: If the story is a thriller, the tone should have a darker, edgy feel, and the story’s pacing should be sharp and quick (reflected in shorter sentences, word choice, scene length, etc.) If this is a cozy novel, the tone may be lighter, humorous, or even flirtations, and the pace will be slower, with longer sentences and less snappy dialogue. Words used in description go a long way in setting tone. Is there an air of foreboding or mystery? Aggression? Peace?

2. Be appropriate to the intended audience:

What is the age range, nationality, and gender of the intended reader? The voice of a story written for young adults may not appeal to fans of psychological thrillers. The narrative style and those parts of setting and character traits the author brings to a reader’s attention may determine whether a story appeals more to male or female audiences. Also, word choice for a British audience may be different from that in a story written for American readers. (Is the back end of the character’s car a “trunk” or “boot”?).

3. Fit the viewpoint characters:

Narrative within a scene must fit the personality, level of education, time period, professions, etc of the character though whose perspective the scene is revealed. Include slang of the time period, language of the culture, and/or words used in the character’s occupation. Is regional dialect important to the story? If so, it should flavor the narrative as well as dialogue.

4. Reflect the author’s unique style:

Do you feel most comfortable writing short, snappy dialogue? Rich, poetic prose? Witty or funny phrases? Dark, mysterious descriptions? Perhaps your style is some unique combination of the above.

The genre and characters will determine a great deal regarding narrative language and style of dialogue, but the feel and tone of the tale can be vastly altered depending on the author’s unique voice.

Consider two popular film version of Robin Hood. The 1991 version starring Kevin Costner is a swashbuckling, often humorous, rendition that includes such famous lines as the sherriff’s: “That’s it then. Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings, and call off Christmas.” The 2010 film starring Russell Crowe, however, is a much darker, grittier version. The characters and many plot elements (sword fights, the plight of the poor, a struggle to free a land from tyranny) may be the same, but the stories are vastly different.

Caution: A writer’s voice should be apparent from the very first word of the story, yet without calling attention to itself. Above, I mentioned tone. The author’s voice should set the tone, making the reader aware of what type of story this will be from the first few lines. At the same time, the writing must be an organic part of the story, not overshadowing it. Lyrical or poetic prose can beautifully enhance description, or drown the story in a sea of words that scream, “Look at this brilliant writing!”

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner has this to say about voice: “You can’t learn it. You can’t copy it. Voice isn’t a matter of studying. You have to find it. And the only place to find it is within you.”

So, as you set out to develop a unique voice that captures the imagination and ensnares a loyal following of readers…Be deliberate. Be aware. Be creative. And above all, be yourself!

Your turn to Shed Your Light below…

How would you describe your writing voice or that of your favorite author?

Other Posts in this Series:

6 Elements of a Great Novel

Are Your Characters R.E.A.L?

Finding Your Writer’s Voice: Part 1

More on Voice:

 What Is Writer’s Voice? by agent Rachelle Gardner

Voice in Writing: Developing a Unique Writing Voice, a Writer’s Digest article

The Writer’s Voice

About the author:

Bridgett's promo2Bridgett Powers has defied the limitations of impaired vision and overcome a 21-year battle against chronic pain, all of which taught her a profound truth. God shines brightest through cracked lanterns.

Now, she shares that truth through her fantasy novels, picture book, and short stories. A member of ACFW and MyBookTherapy, she also serves as co-leader and writing coach for her writer’s group, operates a proofreading and editing service, and teaches writing workshops.

About Bridgett

fantasy novelist ~ picture book and short story author ~ freelance editor ~ writing coach

One thought on “Finding Your Writer’s Voice: Part 2

  1. Elsa Holland says:

    Reblogged this on The Writers Room and commented:

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