I don't know about you, but I want my writing to stand out from the crowd. I want my words to be memorable, and my novels distinguished. I want to write something so unique and outstanding that it builds all the right buzz and inspires fangirls and guys worldwide.
But how can a writer accomplish such renown?
Plenty of factors come in to play - strong characters, a solid plot, well-developed world-building, and excellent prose are a solid start. But one element that truly sets an author's work apart from the rest comes in the form of a unique and defined style of writing, otherwise known as a writing voice.
You've probably heard of this term before, but the exact definition of a writing voice may be a bit unclear. Is it something that every writer is born with, or can each find and develop their own voice over time? And what exactly is it about a writing voice that helps an author stand out from the crowd?
Well, we're going to answer all of those questions and more in today's post on how to find your writing voice. So read on, lovely writer! It's time to clear the air so that you can start rocking your unique style of storytelling today.
So what is a writing voice, anyway? Good question!
An author's voice is their unique style of writing a novel. This doesn't specifically refer to an author's preferred method of storytelling or their personal variety of prose. Rather, it's a combination of the two!
Every writer has a preferred method of storytelling, and their preferences help define their work. If each of an author's works deals with similar subject matter, shares common character development journeys or dialogue styles, makes use of the same plot devices, etc., readers will take notice.
Likewise, a writer's prose can also set them apart, in some cases even more so than their storytelling. An author's diction (word choice), syntax (sentence structure), and use of other stylistic literary devices (such as motifs or imagery) can easily make their writing recognizable.
When you combine these two elements, a writer's unique writing voice is born.
I like to think of a writer's voice as their stamp. Every time they write a new novel, that book is stamped with their personal brand of awesome. This stamp allows writers to build recognition and praise for their work, likely snowballing their success with each new novel they publish.
Pretty cool, right?
But before we dig into how a writing voice is shaped, there's one important thing to note: Though a voice is often influenced by the writer's personal experiences and interests, the content, tone, and/or stance their novels take do not automatically reflect their personal beliefs.
Take a look at this extreme example: An author may write a series of crime novels from the perspective of a serial killer. Because the serial killer acts as the protagonist, their horrific actions may be humanized or even cast in a positive light.
This does not mean that the author actually believes serial-killing is a-okay. They're simply exploring a new perspective. Make sense?
The beautiful thing about an author's writing voice is that it is both innate and moldable. Everyone starts out with a writing voice that is uniquely their own, but as they learn and grow, they are able to refine that voice into something truly magnificent.
But before we talk about how to refine it, let's talk about how to find your writing voice. Here are four elements that shape your innate writing style:
1. Your Experiences. Everyone has a unique life experience. Every event you've celebrated, trial you've faced, challenge you've conquered, and test you've failed has shaped you into the person you are today. And some of those experiences are bound to spill over into your writing.
In fact, it's your exploration of these experiences that will attract readers able to identify with them. This will make your writing memorable, and keep readers coming back for more.
2. Your Interests. Remember, you should always write the stories that set your soul on fire. If you stay true to you, writing novels that you - as both a writer and a reader - simply adore, you'll put together a body of work that readers will easily recognize as your own.
3. Your Personality. It may sound crazy to think that your personality can shape your writing voice, but it's true! Introverted or extroverted, adventurous or reserved, intuitive or straight-forward, you name any dichotomy in the personality spectrum and it will affect the way in which an author writes.
4. Your skills. This element may sound a bit silly. "Don't my skills shape my voice, Kristen? How can they help me find my writing voice?". Well, you're certainly not wrong. In the next section of this article, we'll talk about how to develop your skills and refine your writing voice.
But before you can develop your skills, you have to learn them. And unless you came out of the womb with a pen in hand (kudos to you if you did!), you had to learn the writing skills you already have along the way.
Of course, not everyone shares the same schooling, so not everyone learns the same writing skills. The emphasis your teachers placed on certain writing elements, how duly you applied yourself to your work, and how high a level of schooling you received all affects the skills you have.
(Keep in mind: A higher degree of education does not always equal better writing skills.)
Now that we've established the elements that naturally shape your writing voice, let's talk about how you can continue to define and refine your writing voice so you can make a killer impression on readers. Here are four tips for developing your own unique writing style:
1. Read a Lot. In order to develop your voice, you have to experience as many other writers' styles as possible. By reading a lot and reading widely, you'll discover what styles of writing simply aren't your cup of tea, while also picking up a few style notes to add a bit of flare to your innate style.
The key to using this tip effectively is to read in as many genres and age markets as possible. From middle grade to adult and romance to sci-fi, the wider a range of novels you read, the more intricately you'll be able to refine your voice.
Also, keep in mind that you should never try to mimic another writer's voice. What makes your work unique is your own writing voice, not another's, so avoid trying to adapt a writer's style simply because you admire it.
On the other hand, you may notice that you unintentionally adopt a writer's style from time to time, and that's okay.You'll naturally work your way in and out of different styles, eventually settling into one that is unique to you.
2. Write a Lot. As you read, you pick up a plethora of style notes that you'll have to put into practice at some point. So hop to it! The more you write, the stronger your skills will become and the faster your unique writing voice will emerge.
Want to really stretch the scope of your voice? Give free-writing a shot! Set a timer for 10 or 20 minutes, press start, and write like the wind. Don't edit as you go, and don't be afraid. As Hemingway said, "Write hard and clear about what hurts."
The point of this exercise is to get vulnerable. As writers, we all too often get lost inside our heads, and sometimes this results in allowing peer pressure and market standards to define our writing instead of giving our most raw and honest work permission to emerge.
This can kill the incredible individuality of your unique writing style!
With free-writing, you don't have time to worry over each word. You have to write what immediately comes to mind, allowing your soul to seep onto the page, and this results in some of the truest work you will ever write. Hello, writing voice!
3. Consider the Rules. Remember when we talked about reading above, and I mentioned that you'll naturally discover the style notes that do and do not work for your writing voice? This same philosophy applies to the classic writing rules.
You should always write by the rules for a time. Many authors give up on a rule after only putting it into practice for a week or two. They find the rule too hard to adapt, and quit before it's truly worked its magic. And that's a shame!
Most writing rules are admittedly aggravating to master, but if you ditch them too soon, you'll never know how much they could have benefited your work. Give them the time to become second nature, and you may be surprised to discover just how much they can transform your writing.
(Side note: This is why I always urge you Pantsers to give pre-writing your novel a shot. It may just change your life!)
However, there will always be that one rule that just doesn't work for you. Once you've given this rule a chance at shaping your writing, it's okay to acknowledge that it simply isn't the right choice for your writing voice.
After all, you never want your voice to sound forced or contrived. That's not a writing voice at all, and readers will notice! Instead, ditch that rule before it convinces you to take your writing to a place that you and your readers won't enjoy.
And while we're on the topic of rules, remember that every "rule" I present here on She's Novel should be treated the same way. The advice I give out will definitely benefit the majority of readers, but there is a chance that you are the exception. Don't be afraid to break away from my guidelines when it's right for your voice.
This last tip is by far my number one tip for defining and refining your writing voice. Pay special attention to this one, folks!
4. Find Your Confidence. It's never easy to be unique. Sticking out like a sore thumb can be a terrifying thought, but that's exactly what you want to do as a published author. You want readers to be able to spot your work from a mile away and to remember your work because of how unique and remarkable it is.
The best way you can accomplish such a distinguished writing voice is to grow more and more confident in your skills and your stories. The braver you are on the page, the more remarkable your novels will be.
But how do you find your confidence?
I can tell you from experience that it's not easy. In fact, finding your confidence is a never ending journey. And that journey begins with recognizing your voice's strengths and weaknesses. Where does your storytelling and prose shine? Where is it more than a bit lackluster?
Once you've identified both of these elements, it's time to get down to business. Work hard to not only improve your weaknesses and make them strengths, but to take your strengths and turn them into superpowers.
And remember to be patient. You can't accomplish these tasks overnight, or even in the next year. In fact, you'll spend the rest of your life growing more and more confident in your unique writing voice, and that's okay. It's what makes the writing life such a beautiful journey.
Related Post: How to Overcome Writing Doubts and Rock Your Novel Style
It's perfectly normal for your writing voice to evolve over time. I'd actually be worried if it didn't. But if you think it strange that a writing voice would still be recognizable after it evolves, here's a fun metaphor to explore this idea further:
Think of your writing voice as a singing voice. Everyone knows Taylor Swift. Her music is instantly recognizable worldwide and has been since day one, but take her latest album and compare it to her first, and you'll notice some striking differences.
Both the narratives of Taylor's albums and her style of music has evolved. But more than that, if you listen to her albums consecutively, you'll hear how her voice has grown and developed over the years. It's much different now than it was when she released her first album, but that doesn't mean that her voice isn't still extremely distinguishable.
And that's exactly the kind of trajectory and recognition you want to aim for as a fiction writer.
Have you learned a few tips and tricks on how to find your writing voice today? Awesome! If you're ready to develop your writing voice over the years to come, it's time to start setting some serious goals for improvement.
I've been implementing long- and short-term goals for the past eight months now (since March 2015), and I've already seen my work grow by leaps and bounds; I'm learning more and more about my writing voice each and every day.
If you'd like to do the same, check out my goal-setting breakdown and get started today!
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Kristen Kieffer is a writer of fantasy fiction and the creative writing coach behind She's Novel. She's made it her mission to help aspiring authors write sensational novels because obliterating expectations is her jam. Her other passions? Coffee and Tolkien, of course!