Writing Discussion

That Funny Thing Called “Voice”

Voice is you. It’s the way you string together a sentence. It’s the way you think put into words. It’s your sense of humor, or poetry, or drama. It’s the way you talk.

But we have multiple voices: one for talking to our friends, one when speaking in front of a group, one when we’re blogging. Some writers maintain consistent voice for every novel. Others change their voice with each story. Most people change their voice when working with different mediums.

But how do you develop your voice? How do you make it work to your advantage?

For me, the key is slipping into the right frame of mind. I need something to latch onto so I can begin the story. Once that happens, the writing gets easy, the words and images start to flow.

  • Sometimes it starts with an image: a windy empty field, sparks words that echo solitude, and leaves little room for long sentences.
  • Other times it starts with a character’s personality: helter-skelter, here and there, words tumbling out, clipped, never finished.
  • Sometimes it starts with a feeling: the death of a loved hanging over the house like a shroud.

The hard part is sustaining voice over a long period of time. Sometimes its easy to slip into it, but other days I just can’t. Right now I’m still struggling for something to grasp onto, but I think I’m closer. I’ve found it before, and I need to find it again.

How do you find your voice? Do you worry about it too?

24 Comments

  1. Voice is very challenging for me. It’s more about keeping the voice consistent. When I’m in the zone, like really in the zone, it comes out perfectly, but if not, it doesn’t come out very good. So the challenge is making my voice the same throughout my novel.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      It is difficult to sustain it.That zone is what I hope for, but it’s not always easy to slip back into, especially over weeks and months. But I know it can be done. We’ll figure it out!

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      Ahh yes, I typically don’t notice it until the last draft, and it helps not to worry about it at the start. I like the analogy. It can be like nails on chalkboard, or worse yet, limp and soggy to begin with. lol

  2. Brad

    Your voice is also a reflection of what you’re reading. I try to read in the same genre I’m writing, or at least stick to the same subject matter.

  3. Honestly I don’t stress so much about voice… Because I think once the story is down, the voice can be layered in and/or finessed. Yes, it’s MUCH easier if the voice stays with you the whole time, but… I think if you push on, you will find it’s workable.

    I do think “triggers” — like inspirational images, or rereading old scenes — can help. At least they seem to for me!

  4. Voice is something I’m very much reflecting on while editing my WIP. I recently rewrote my first chapter, starting with a feeling (euphoria then paranoia) and discovered a very different kind of “voice” that I haven’t used before—very erratic and sometimes as a stream of consciousness. However, I really, really like it. I have to make a decision now whether I want to:

    (A) maintain that same voice throughout the rest of the novel;
    (B) only use that voice for certain characters and/or certain situations; or
    (C) abandon it completely.

    I don’t think I can do C because it has revolutionized the way I think about my writing voice, though it’s too experimental and exhausting a style to attempt A with. So I think I may just use it to a lesser degree in certain instances and with only one character’s viewpoint, to highlight that character’s particularly stressful frame of mind they sometimes experience.

    I find that I use a slightly different “voice” depending on which character’s viewpoint I’m writing in. I really get inside their head and somehow begin to narrate in a style that is compatible with the way they think and speak. It helps to maintain distinction between characters.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      That’s a tricky dilemma. I faced something similar and ended up doing a major rewrite, but sometimes that voice is worth it. My 2 mc’s have very different ways of thinking/speaking. It’s fun switching between them.

      Funny how different concerns pop up when you’re writing & editing. I’d really like to hear more about what other people are going through while editing. I don’t think I see too many posts on that. Thanks for sharing Tiyana!

  5. I always wonder whether one can see their own voice easily. I can see different voices for characters (and love that when an author does it well), but sometimes I’ll look at my writing, particularly something that flowed easily and immediately dislike it. Sort of the way I dislike seeing pictures of myself or listening to my voice.

    I would argue that voice isn’t the easiest thing for me and my best strategy currently is to write a lot.

  6. I don’t worry about voice. In fact, I try not to think about it. It’s like riding a bike. The moment I start thinking instead of doing, I lose momentum, rhythm, and then crash.

    I think it also has to do with your writing style. I like to write as if I’m orally telling you a story, and I write in 3rd person limited. So the narration is easy for me to maintain because it’s me telling you a story.

    But when it comes to the characters’ voices, that’s where a little acting is involved. Sometimes it’s speech patterns and rhythm of the words. Other times, certain characters like to use certain words over and over again. My MC in my current project doesn’t use contractions.

    I think capturing the essence of each character, their personality and such, is a great way to create and maintain voice throughout.

    1. That’s interesting that you point out how one of your characters doesn’t use contractions. I’ve tried this with one or two of my characters, as well, to varying degrees (there are certain contractions they will use, but others they won’t). There’s a lot of little things you can think about when individualizing your characters, huh? The complexity or simplicity of their vocabulary, body language and gestures, repeated phrases, whether they swear or not, how often they talk, how often (or unoften) they correspond with certain other characters…

      I think some of the same things can be considered in the writer’s narrating voice, as well, once you’ve already written a bit, though not all of them.

    2. T.S. Bazelli Author

      Yes, it can be easy to get self-conscious and lose it. Good point about the writing style too. I find it’s easier to slip into first person if I’m ‘telling a story’, but when it comes to third person and multiple character view points, for me it can be a little tricky to switch.

      Great idea on the lack of contractions. That would definitely add to personality.

      You know I may be confusing voices… there are 3 (I can think of) Author voice, character voice, and story voice. Hmm, maybe that deserves another post.

  7. In terms of author voice – that’s not something I consciously think about most of the time. I may change up my tone based on different stories, but changing or adjusting my own voice: that’s not something that I’m actually thinking about when I write.

    Character voice is a different story – mostly that concerns dialog when you write in 3rd person, but it can affect the tone used in the story if it’s a very limited 3rd person or in 1st person and you want the story to reflect the character’s voice – and I do think about how I can improve my dialog, or add character in the way that I write dialog based on vocabulary and phraseology used by one character or another.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      I’ve been thinking about character phraseology a lot more these days. Since I’m writing a portal story, slang and speech should be different to contrast the worlds, even it’s just a small degree. I haven’t worked out all the kinks in that yet, but it’s percolating back there.

      You know what though? Even if you don’t focus on it, I always hear a very clear author voice when I read your writing, Stephen 🙂

    1. It does change, the slippery thing. Sometimes I hear it changing in the span of one story – which can be a challenge LOL But glad to hear it’s not something you worry about.

  8. Voice is something that I, admittedly, have never thought much about or struggled with. I just let the words come and see what happens. I find if you write from your heart, from the very core of your being…your voice just comes naturally.

  9. I’m agreeing with others here, Theresa. Stop struggling and let it evolve naturally, as trying to force voice seems impossible to achieve. From what i’ve heard, and from what i’ve experienced, it is constantly evolving, as Tiyana says, even from the beginning of a manuscript to the end!

    If you can feel it happening, I guess you can say you are growing as a writer and you are doing it the right way!

    Though I agree that sometimes you can channel your ‘writing voice’ more effectively than others. It’s similar to forcing a passage that won’t give itself up, sometimes you just have to come back another day ..!

    1. Funny thing is that it’s never been a problem for me until now. It’s usually easy for me to slip into the right head space, but then I’ve never tried writing something this long either. Yup, I’ve seen it changing, almost frustratingly, even between edits… I really hope that means growth, as you say, and not general wishy-washiness. LOL Thanks for the encouragement Luke 🙂

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