Finding Your Voice as a Writer

Surprisingly, there’s not a lot of great material out there detailing how to find your writer’s voice. That distinguishable and authentic thing that makes your writing you. In cases of superb writing, a distinguishable voice can likely catapult or sink a writer. A material’s genre (especially in fiction), structure, quality, and appeal matter immensely, and some may even argue that these factors are more important than the “stamp” of a writer’s voice in finding writing success (which is defined differently by virtually all writers). Writing, though, is an art, not just a business of selling. The marketability of a piece of work is one thing; the uniqueness and individuality of that work is what helps it stand out among its peers. In many cases, a writer’s voice is what builds fans or followers.

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A. Alvarez’s book The Writer’s Voice has some great little gems in it, illustrating how voice can help writers–and authors–find and define their audience. He breaks out the difference between “voice” and “style,” helping the reader–and writer–understand the differences with clarity. I also stumbled upon a great blog by Cori Padgett, where she talks a little about the purpose of writing and pointing out the importance of utilizing your quirks as a writer.

Here are some simple things that worked for me while writing my first novel, The Silent Partner. I’m sure that I’ll continue to refine my voice through future work. If you have tactics that have worked for you, please share!

  • Write and therefore rewrite. Find out what works for you, in style and substance. Challenge yourself, but if you write often about something you love, you’ll develop a unique presence on the page.
  • Structure your story before you write it, so you can clear your head of concerns of structure as you plow forward. (There are many theories on story structure. In a previous blog, I spoke of my favorite, John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story.) In this way, your individuality can come through without any “rules” binding you down.
  • Be your interesting self. Write about what matters to you. If something pivotal is missing, it will come up with rewrites and editing. And editors! When you can dig into yourself and find those moments that mattered to you or someone else, and you can channel them into a character or story (the writer version of what actors do, I suppose), great moments can happen on the page. And those moments are all you. (Great time to cue The Greatest Love of All.)

If you’ve found other ways to enhance your writing voice, please let me know about them! And good luck, my friends.

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Foreshadowing – The First 5 Pages

 A great technique to keep readers engaged in a story is foreshadowing. That is, hinting at greater things to come and building the payoff once we get there. (A great blog by Stavros Halvatzis on this subject can be found here.) Donald Maass, literary agent and author, takes this a step further with recommending a foreshadowed set-up with the dark protagonist in the first five pages of the story. At the New York Writer’s Digest Conference 2011 back in January, he coached all the writers in the room–many of them presumably with completed manuscripts to pitch to agents–how to get readers to experience the long for change of this main character, and suggested we writers do it quickly, so to help readers get engaged from the start.
All you have to do provide HOPE to this character and put some beef behind the narrative drive is determine one way this character would like to change. Let go. What would this character like to do that is common, ordinary, or safe, so to become more human? And how can readers experience this longing for change? A dark protagonist should have something good about them we can care about.
This excellent technique was employed and refined within the first five pages of The Silent Partner. 

The Anatomy of Story

For years––going back to college––I’ve studied (but admittedly, mostly perused) many books on writing. Those that broke out the infamous 3-act structure. Ones where another writer without best-seller credentials was going to share the skill of good writing, even if their professional writing success was limited to sharing with others how to write. (Right?) Some even unabashedly detailed what not to write, figuring that the opposite of bad had to be good.

And a number of us know, if you ask someone what their favorite book on writing is, they’ll share with you a book they studied . . . or maybe two . . . but we know that––like a hammer––these writing books are merely tools. We the writers are the carpenters. And like building a house, you need more than one tool to construct it properly, and that’s before you even get to the aesthetics that make a house a home. Warm and inviting. (Or, if you hate people, something that the neighbors envy)

While everyone may have a different opinion about what tools in their toolbox have been most helpful for them, I can tell you of a book that changed my attitude toward writing (for the better), changed my formulaic outlook on storytelling, and inspired me. (How much is true inspiration worth to you?) One day out at Disneyland, my good pal Peter Ettinger brought up The Anatomy of Story, by John Truby. While virtually any book on writing is constructive and helpful in discovering new ways to improve your craft, I found Anatomy to stand apart from the pack with its awareness of what elements can make a good story great. Think of those books or movies that you will go back to again and again. What is it about those stories that you relate to on such a conscious or subconscious level that you want to relive them? Through Truby’s coaching, discover within yourself how to best deliver those ahhhh moments with the greatest impact. If you’re looking for a new friend to assist you in determining how to break the rules once you know them, I very much recommend this book.

I couldn’t have gotten to the quality of my first novel without all of the books and instructors I’ve ever had, but Anatomy changed the game for me. Now it’s time to start pitching my manuscript, and we’ll see if I properly implemented what I’ve learned. I’ll let you know how it goes. And, as I promised Peter, when it is published, he’ll have my greatest acknowledgment.

But then, maybe I’m biased.