Recognizing Your Voice

When you read enough of an author you begin to develop an ear for them.  It can get to the point where you can pick a random book, flip to a page, and say to yourself, “This reminds me of (insert author).”  In writer speak, we call this voice.  Voice is your style, your pizzazz, the thing making your writing unique to you.  This voice changes over time.

quotes about writing and painting.jpgHere are two really interesting examples of voice I recently read about in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.  This book is written by Renni Browne and Dave King and these excerpts come from Page 213.

“It was the middle of a bright tropical afternoon that we made good our escape from the bay.  The vessel we sought lay with her main-topsail aback about a league from the land and was the only object that broke the broad expanse of the ocean.”

And…

“Call me Ishmael.  Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”

white whale.jpgYou likely recognized the second entry as the opening to Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby-Dick.  Perhaps less well know is the first offering, which is the opening to the seafaring novel Omoo.  Interestingly, both of these novels were penned by the same author.

While I’m not going to argue about which one I think is better, or critique classic works of writing, I do want you to look at those openings and see how the voice changes.  Omoo was published in 1847 while Moby-Dick was published in 1851.  In those years between, Melville begin to hone and develop his voice.

Browne and King explain, ” Certainly when he wrote Omoo Melville had not yet found what John Gardner (in On Becoming a Novelist) has called ‘his booming, authoritative voice.’  In the Moby-Dick opening, Gardner points out, the rhythms ‘lift and roll, pause, gather, roll again.’ The authority is unmistakable” (p. 214).

h melville.jpgIn my opinion, you are what you eat.  Melville wrote amazing books about seafaring life partly because he spent some time at sea (the noblest of pursuits). He even went so far as to sign aboard a whaling ship to simply be a deck-hand and experience the life.  Is it so surprising his account of life at sea is so realistic?

Let’s not get it twisted.  I’m not saying if you want to write a fantasy space opera you need to build a spaceship, round up a bunch of LARPers, and pack a ton of Cheetos and Mountain Dew (if you do, let me know).  What I am saying is you should be reading.  If a genre interests you, start getting to know the voices of the authors who live in it.  See how they tackle dialogue, narrative, descriptions, and story telling in general.

This is the worry I hear, “If I read a bunch of those authors I will start writing like them.  It won’t be my voice it will be theirs.”

heads of large ships.jpgYes, your voice may be similar to authors you particularly enjoy, but yet, it will still be yours.  When you first start writing you may really borrow other writers voices.  That’s only because you aren’t confident enough to raise yours up just yet – give it some time.  The more diverse your reading becomes and the more confident you get as you write, the more your voice will begin to make it’s own way.

Good luck finding your voice!  Do you have an author who you just love due to their unique voice?  Let me know – sharing is caring.

That’s it for today.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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24 responses

    • I know how you feel. I’m currently writing Wastelander: The Drake Legacy and it’s a first person narrative. Because I write through the eyes and mind of the protagonist, Drake, I sometimes think like he does in real life (which is a little scary). I’ll be happy to finish and let him live in the pages and out of my head.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I find it can be exhausting writing in the minds and voices of different characters.
        Even when I’m writing a poem and pulling from my own experiences, my brain starts to ache if I’m trying too hard to maintain a tone that outside of my usual speaking tone of humor and sarcasm.
        Also I don’t think it’s scary that you think like Drake. My thought process is, all characters are a manifestation of the writer or the writer’s experiences.
        From what I’ve read, you’re almost done. Congratulations on that!!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. My all time favorite author is Jude Deveraux . She writes eighteenth Century romance novels. They are very descriptive of the surrounding and that types of clothing they dorned. Takes me back to that Era and I enjoy it. Not that I have been to that era, but only what I have read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading Kim. I’ve never been to space, chopped a man in half with a sword, or ridden a dragon – but I have in my mind thanks to good books. I think you find the same escape with Deveraux. Keep reading, we all need to flee the humdrum real world every now and then!

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  2. Cornelia Funke has a beautiful voice. Rather heavy on adjectives and comparisons, but in a good way. Her books made me want to be a writer in the first place (back in the day), so she’s the one I basically copied in my first attempts. I like to think I’ve overcome that now, though I am also convinced that finding out what you like about a writer’s voice and trying those things helps a great deal in developing your voice.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Voice is a tricky subject, and often the changes between authors are too subtle to notice. Yet’s it’s hard to think that all writers have their own unique voice, but I guess it’s one of those subconcious processes you experience rather than manually train.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are right it can be very subtle. Sometimes when a reader is off-put by an author and can’t put their finger on it – it can be the tone and feel of their narrative voice. While the process of developing your voice is somewhat subconscious, I would argue that it can only be developed through manual means (the act of writing and reading). Thanks for reading and posting and good luck on your quest.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. In terms of voice, I’m a huge fan of Robert Jordan in that regard. Also, if there’s someone under a rock who hasn’t read Peter V. Brett, he or she needs to. I can feel my voice evolving. Its not just in Bob (which borrows a ton from Koontz) or Caught (which still feels like Koontz) but in my later books, which I’m drafting now. I think like any voice, your dialect evolves based on where you go. That’s how accents happen. I can still see elements of Cooper and Zahn in some of my design. Now I’ve Wheel of Time some 17 times (yes, I’ve read all 15 books (14 plus New Spring) at least 5 times each, and I’ve read books 1-10, 17 times). I’ve read everything Sanderson and Weeks have put out. I think the trick is to avoid JUST reading one author. Vary your diet. Try something unfamiliar. That will help you work. Then after a few “the ends” are under your belt, you’ll start to feel your own voice develop. At least I think that’s what happened with me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amazing comment MLS and some really great examples of authors with strong voice. Not to mention you being a great example of someone who ingests large amounts of literature (very impressive).

      Your advice is very sound, I would agree completely. Varying the diet, as you say, is key. My takeaway from you is that if you write enough and add varying readings to your daily routine, then you will start to develop your own voice.

      Glad you stopped by to leave this gem. Good luck with your edits of Caught!

      Liked by 1 person

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  6. An all-too-common scenario: An author spends a lot of time and effort developing the right narrative voice for a story. Then an overzealous editor comes along, and — hack! slash! gouts of red ink all over the floor! — the very thing that makes the story unique is stripped away, and now it’s just like every other story of its genre… or worse yet, it doesn’t even have that much identity left. (Her author got over it — eventually — but I think Alandra Kade still wants to shoot a few people for their attempts to edit away her snark and sarcasm and incomplete sentences.)

    Once, while gathering quotes for a paper on Jungian archetypes I was writing for a university course, I happened upon a review of an old fantasy novel I’d read several times. The reviewer complained at great length that the voice/narrative style of this first-person novel was inconsistent and thus flat-out bad writing: the protagonist sometimes spoke like a regular guy from mid-20th century America and sometimes like a prince from some medieval-fantasy world. The thing is, this “inconsistent voice” was EXACTLY RIGHT for the character… and people who read Nine Princes in Amber USUALLY get that rather quickly (or at least as quickly as the protagonist does).

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s an awful feeling to have someone tell you to change the entire POV of your book. People act like it’s as simple as changing a shirt. I’m no published giant, but one of the first people I ever mentioned I was writing a book to (a childhood friend who I respect dearly) asked if he could read what I had written. Against my better judgement I obliged. His first feedback to me was, “Only mysteries are written in first person, you should maybe switch the POV throughout.” I bit my tongue and didn’t bother arguing, but it was still a bit of a blow to my ego as this was the first person to look at the book (other than my wife).

      Out of curiosity have you found any books that address Jungian archetypes well? I own one written by Jung, Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, but haven’t pulled the trigger on any others. I always worry the other books will just re-hash what he wrote already.

      As for reviewers missing the mark, there’s a reason I don’t really review fiction books (and you just explained it). I don’t want to be the one missing the mark and looking like a fool. I stick to talking about non-fiction and only relay what I found useful as it pertains to writing.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and share some thoughts. It’s always motivating for me, and readers, to hear an editor say, “the POV you picked is okay…it’s going to be okay.”

      Liked by 1 person

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