Writers are like singers, they have distinct voices. The problem is finding and developing that voice. Like singers we have to practice, study our craft, find our passion, before we can begin to develop that voice. Do you know why poets often make the best writers of prose? Because they, like singers, have developed a voice. Learn to sing to your readers, capture and awe them and don’t turn them loose until you’re finished with your “song.”
I can’t teach you your voice, no one can, but I hope to help you search for it, or having found it make it stronger. That voice begins in your heart, your mind, your soul. It comes from your perceptions of the world around you, and those perceptions come from the lullabies your mother sang, the stories your father told, the way your family expressed love, joy, hate and anger. It comes from your own likes and dislikes, what you are passionate about. From all this you can develop a unique voice.
Let’s say you’ve developed solid multi-dimensional and emotional characters, you’ve written the best book or story or article you can possibly write. It’s all there: fresh settings, crisp dialogue, a sense of place, conflict, a thematic focus, good pacing. The story is original and well plotted, with sub plots and interesting twists and turns. Surprises and foreshadowing that go hand in hand.
You’ve developed a rhythm, set a tone. Scenes and Sequels present the reader with excitement and a time to relax and ponder what’s happened and what may happen. You’ve studied and practiced viewpoint until you have it down cold.
You’ve all read the master, Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain, of course, and so you know when and how to drop a corpse through the roof, don’t you?
So why doesn’t someone buy your work? Why do you continue to get rejections? Or – even worse, you broke through the barriers, found a publisher and then your book just languished on the shelf. So why aren’t your creations selling the way they should?
More than likely it’s that you haven’t developed a voice of your own. A unique voice. You do not yet speak with an entrancing tongue. Have not yet learned what makes your story and the way you tell it absolutely breathtaking, unique to you alone.
Step 1 — Consider what you are writing about. Is it truly what you want to write, what you were meant to write? When you sit down to write, do you have an unbridled passion?
If you can answer yes to those questions, then you probably have already developed a voice in which to tell your stories, or you’re well on your way to it. We’ll talk more about this later, and discuss ways you can write for markets that are hot without selling out.
Step 2 — If the answer is no to these questions, if you dread making your way to that place where you write or have to force yourself to do so, or if you are confused and aren’t sure about your voice, there are some things you can do.
A. Rewrite passages from other books the way you would write them. Turn loose, don’t be afraid to be innovative, write down things you might never write ordinarily. As they say today, go to the edge. Be bold. Write the things you’ve always wanted to write, but never had the courage. Do this a lot for practice.
B. Read something you have written into a tape recorder, then go somewhere quiet away from your workspace, sit in the dark and with your eyes closed and your mind open listen only to the sound of your voice. Oh, I know, isn’t it terrible? But get over your aversion and listen for the rhythm, the song your words sing.
Pay attention to inflections in your reading voice until you get a feel for the passage. Then listen again and try to think where you might change the pace, the tone, the rhythm, use a stronger verb or drop an adjective or adverb.
This is not editing, but rather adjusting the song, if you will. Exercising your diaphragm.
C. Now, rather than reading the passage, turn on your recorder again and pretend you’re telling your story around a campfire. See how you might change some things.
Don’t look at what you’ve written. Include some dialogue where it might help, right off the top of your head. Create verbally. Now, write it down the way you told it, rather than the way you first wrote it. Do this a lot. And soon your voice will shine through, and it will get stronger and stronger as you continue to practice your craft.
Here’s a link to a video which might help you hear voice and how it tells stories. This video was shown at the Arkansas Film Festival and several times on AETN, the Arkansas Educational Television Network in 2004.