Ah, voice. The elusive goal of all newbie writers.
But what the heck is it? And how does one find their voice?
Voice is the ability to convey the unique way that you see the world to your readers. It is the style, the themes, the passion and personal observations that you bring to your writing. Voice is the overarching concept that encompasses the tone that you use and the messages you send.
Clear as mud, right?
Well hopefully the steps you can take it find or improve your voice are clearer. Remember that voice takes time, patience and practice to formulate.
1. Write with purpose
This takes three forms: knowing yourself, your message, and knowing your tone.
Finding something that you are passionate in can be really easy or leave you stroking your chin for hours.
How do you go about discovering what you are passionate about? Below is a few points that you can try to help you find what matters most to you:
Know your message:
When you know what you are passionate about, you can begin to look at what message. What do I want to say about my passion? To make a message it needs to be more than just - oh look, here is something I feel strongly about - the message needs to provoke a question and challenge/reinforce your readers current ideas about that passion. Below are a few ideas about how you can craft a message:
Your message becomes a theme when you embed it, discretely, in your novel. You can be show your theme through a number of different ways, here are a few:
Know your tone:
When you have your message nailed down, you can look at what tone suits the how you express your theme. The tone that you choose can have a huge impact on how well your message is received, as well as how clear your voice appears in your novel. Here are some ways to show tone in your writing.
2. Improve your craft
I know, this one is no one's favorite. But as it is what we are hoping to be paid to do - we should at least try to be good at it. Plus, less editing = less money, I'm always a fan of saving money when I can.
And unfortunately, often a weak or poor voice comes from the inability to structure a sentence or create a clean paragraph (*raises hand* I am so guilty of this).
Now I hate this stuff so I am going to link some websites that I found helpful:
University of Bristol
The Writing Center - UNC
Past vs Present
The Write Practice
Passive vs Active
American Journal Experts
This stuff IS important - often good writing will trump a clever or interesting voice. So practice and learn.
3. Develop your voice through editing
Ergh! What am I doing - another evil step.
Yep. Evil but necessary.
Editing allows you to discover what you do well and what you do poorly. It forces you to examine the way you write and to refine it and polish it until it sparkles. Taking the time (and it will be a lot) to edit your work makes you a better writer. It sounds contradictory but it forces you to apply the things you know about the craft of writing. It takes out the garbage and leaves behind the essence of your writing - your voice. And the more you apply the rules and standards of writing, the better you will get at it. Also, it makes you more likely to avoid the same mistakes in your first draft for any later books.
I like to work from big picture to small picture. The idea is to look over the novel as a big picture, examine it for tension, plot holes and overall pace. Then work on the smaller elements that take up progressively less space in your novel. The last part is checking punctuation and spelling errors.
This is an overview of the editing steps I use:
I will be doing an in depth post about this subject on a later date.
DISCLAIMER: PLEASE DO NOT THINK THAT YOU CAN PUBLISH WITHOUT PROFESSIONAL EDITING - THIS STEP IS ABOUT LEARNING AND IMPROVING - YOU STILL NEED A PROFESSIONAL EDIT. SERIOUSLY, JUST HIRE SOMEONE.
4. Experiment with point of view
As writers we tend to get stuck in this idea of what we SHOULD be writing.
"YA/NA is first person" or "Fantasy is third person".
We have this idea, usually because of our reading preferences, of what our writing should look like and sound like. The thing is, if we only write in one POV we might be missing out on discovering the POV that works best for us. You would be hard pressed to find a reader that picks up a book and puts it down with a scowl, saying: "Yuck, first person."
A fun way to experiment with POV is creating pieces of writing from other characters perspectives; I wrote about some activities to try when you have writer's block (see here). In these smaller pieces you can experiment with what works for your style of writing.
Another key to voice is understanding what the pros and cons of each POV offer. This will help you choose one that suits the message you are trying to share.
First Person (Me, I, my)
This style plonks you in the character's head, the reader experiences the life of the character, walking in their shoes.
Explores the question of: Persona vs Identity
Second Person (You, your, yours)
In this style the reader is a character in the novel. It is usually written in present tense. Common uses of this POV is in choose your own adventure novels.
Explores the question of: Identity vs Construction
Third Person (He, she, they)
This POV has the narrator describe the events as they unfold. Usually written in the past tense, this POV can be written in Limited (knowledge is limited to what the character knows/think/feels) or Omniscient (the narrator knows everything, even things the characters don't).
Explores the question of: Internal needs vs External needs
5. Befriend the inner critic
The most consistent way of squashing your voice is to doubt your writing - censor it. And the little voice in your head is most often the culprit. Jerk.
Unfortunately, this is one of the hardest steps. But instead of seeing this inner dialogue as a villain or something that needs to be stopped, we need to befriend it and acknowledge that it is trying to say something that will help us. It just doesn't know how it express itself properly. Resetting the way that your inner critic talks to you and how you respond is difficult and can take some time and work. It will feel like it's not working - don't give up, it is working, just give it time.
Below is some steps that might help calm the nasty critic:
1. Make the conversation more specific:
Change the way your inner critic talks about your writing. Too often it will tell us "Your writing sucks" or "You can't write". It gives us these blanket statements that kill our enthusiasm, that hurt rather than help. Often these comments come at a moment when - let's be honest - your writing might not be that great. And that's why it hurts so much.
But instead of telling it to shut up, ask it "why?". Get it to be specific. Change "This sucks" to "This paragraph doesn't flow" or "The dialogue isn't natural". These changes in phrasing, move the critiques from defeating stabs to the heart into something that you can use, something that is actually helpful.
Next time your critic slams you with a blanket statement, force it to point out what the actual problem is.
2. Make a note of what it is saying and keep going:
Like all good relationships its give and take. Your critic is only going to be helpful if you listen to it. But usually you want to keep writing, you don't want to stop to make changes. So, compromise, make a note (jot it on a sticky note, make a highlighted comment on your document, or just scribble it down in a margin) and keep going. It will keep you writing and your inner critic will be happy.
3. Work on what it is telling you:
Nobody likes to offer help that isn't listened to. Your critic will keep bashing you with horrible corrections until you fix it. And if your critic is anything like mine, it gets meaner the longer you put off fixing the problem. Take note of the commonalities of the critic's message. Then work on it. Research the problem, read books/blogs on how to improve your craft, and make an effort to improve whatever is causing the problem. When it is resolved your inner critic should shut up about it - although it will probably find something new to complain about. Like I said: jerk.
Once you befriend your inner critic you will be able to write how you want to; your voice will become stronger and clearer because its no longer being drowned out with fear and doubt.
I hope you enjoyed the post.
Let me know what you think.
Until next time: don't push fear away, embrace it, it's the part of yourself that has something to say.