When reading up on writing tips, I found a few articles on how to develop a good character voice. For me, that never felt like my main challenge. Acting classes were an integral part of my personal development (I started at 5 years old and had them for 10 years), so my way into a story is always through the uniqueness of its main character. They come to me with a voice, a persona and a purpose, and the challenge is to do them justice when I transition them from my head to paper. The few ideas that formed as a setting are waiting for their character to show up so I can write them.
I found fewer articles about developing a writer’s voice, which is what I perceive as my personal challenge for a long term career.
A writer’s voice is a writer’s unique style that is recognizable from one work to another. It’s something loyal readers can expect from every book. It shouldn’t overshadow the character’s voice, yet it should be there. For several writers, it’s heavily tied to the genre/family of genres they are known for, though it’s not the only defining element.
Lucky those who know which genre they like and can develop an expertise in that. I can’t. My written projects include a bit of everything, so does my bookshelf and my notebook of future projects. Most of my stories contain bits of everything in and of themselves. I sometimes write the story first and figure out the closest genre after a couple of edits –sue me!
So what’s my writer’s voice, then?
I didn’t want to force it, but I wanted to know what it was because I’m a nerd when it comes to introspection and understanding how who I am is reflected in my art.
Also, that could come in handy to give reference points to agents when they ask my writing is similar to whose.
Here’s how I’ve uncovered my voice.
Write and Analyze
The first step is to generate a good amount of work to analyze. Novels, short stories, prompt-inspired or not; what matters is to write. Then, when I edited stories, I paid attention to trends, patterns and differentiating elements.
Drabble Day challenges were especially useful for this. The stories were short so it was easy to analyze them and spot patterns. Since other writers also participated, I could analyze how we had each tackled the theme. As I discerned elements of their voice, I also discerned some of mine.
List Common Grounds
As I analyzed, patterns emerged so I built up a list of them:
- Elements of science-fiction and/or fantasy. I don’t go for a hundred percent realism, but I can come fairly close.
- Strong female characters
- I’m funnier than I thought.
- Recurring themes: stories about different forms of supernatural foresight, characters uncomfortable in their own skin/with their own powers, feminism, identity crisis…
Of course, once I found this my brain came up with a few stories that didn’t touch these common grounds. *sigh* These were still good trends to investigate further.
Read and Analyze
The list helped me stir my reading beyond entertainment or research of the genres I write. I started researching the potential elements of my voice and picked up books that fit one of the elements, maybe two. Books that aren’t quite in my usual top choices, but are adjacent to what I like writing myself.
Whether I liked the book or not, I learned something about myself and which parts of me shine through my writing. It also helped me learn the weaknesses of the way I approach a story (like often forgetting setting descriptions) and find ways to tackle them that work with my voice (melding setting to actions).
As I read, I tweaked the list and precised it. Some aspects are things I aspire to do right because I found that they mattered to me, to the type of voice I want to have:
- Wholesome World and Characters a la Kim Harrison: The Hollows series features a great cast of unique characters that each seem to have a life outside of Rachel’s (the MC). The world is well crafted down to key expressions that are unique to her setting. Some of it, like the killer tomato, is quirky and yet works in her serious setting.
- Sassy quirky fun a la Janet Evanovich: The offbeat characters of the Stephanie Plum series resonate with me. Even in the direst circumstances, they’re hilarious. And the direst circumstances are a little crazy too.
And that’s as far as I got. *laughs* I wish I could tell you that I have all the aspects of my voice and all the pitfalls figured out, but it’ll take me a bit more time and research to get there (if I ever get there.) Also, my voice evolves as I go through the process and refines what really matters to me, and how I want readers to relate to me.
What about you? What elements are defining the way you write?
And if you’ve read some of my stuff, what has jumped out at you as things I should consider as my voice?