Find Your Voice Putting yourself on the page
By Mark London
Keep a daily journal, then read it back to yourself and you'll hear your writing voice.
There are many things unique in the universe -- planets, stars, DNA and you. Yes, you are unique.
But we'll come back to you later. Right now there are a few things you need to know before embarking on your quest for voice.
What makes a good writer? On a broad scale writers create something from nothing. To do this they perform the following: extensive reading, research, writing and editing -- all crucial to the creative process.
Now, finding your voice is trickier.
Read the following three items:
"But he wasn't. He was still here. You'd see his silver dome at Wimbledon the odd time. Or a telephoto paparazzi shot of Johnny on his boat. The possibilities, at least, still existed. But now they don't. He's gone. And gone with him is my dream to interview him -- well, not interview, as Johnny did interviews about as often as gradeschool kids read Shakespeare for fun -- and just hang."
"Another of my peeves is being accused of writing run-on sentences and I will admit that I have been known to be guilty of expressing a full train of thought in a sentence of enormous proportions, disregarding the period in order to convey my message, however I do not stand alone in this arena and for that I am thankful."
"Unless your characters are wildly inventive poets, space aliens, or children fostered by wolves, their dialogue and thoughts will include familiar expressions. Don't rob your Scarlett O'Hara of her "fiddle dee-dees" or deprive your Bogart of "doesn't amount to a hill of beans."
These excerpts are by separate writers, with three distinct writing voices.
There are differences in all writing voices, the same as there are differences in Donald Rumsfeld's and George Bush's voices. Different sound, form, even words to express identical information.
A writer's voice is part of the writer. This article you're reading shouldn't sound condescending. It has my voice, one which, I hope, comes across like a friend chatting with you, not lecturing to you.
Most new writers make the mistake of choosing someone else's voice and start writing. Soon they find themselves lost in their words and, trust me, it's a strange feeling to read something you've written and it doesn't sound like you.
If you are writing non-fiction, then your voice is an image of yourself on the page. If you are writing fiction, then all of the characters have their own voices. For character voices to appear natural you invest time learning how that character should sound.
For example, write up three conversations: a Texan arguing with a police officer, an English prostitute plying trade, and a Canadian clerk denying a driver's license.
If you have done the proper research, their voices should sound nothing like yours, unless you're a Texan, hooker or clerk. Their voices should ring true to their character, a Texas drawl, a hooker's slang, a bureaucratic employee's drone.
To find and develop your own voice, write letters to a friend (delivery is optional) or keep a daily journal of your activities. Then read the material back to yourself a week later and you'll start to hear your own writing voice.
Analyze your voice. Is it deep, brooding, light, joyful, dry, statistical? Whatever sound, it's yours. Practice with it, develop it, because if you don't then it stands to reason you'll have no voice whatsoever and neither will your characters.
One thing to note will be your voice's consistency. In turn each of your characters' voices need consistency; your Texan's voice, arguing with a police officer, shouldn't change. However, if you haven't properly found that character's voice, then each day you add dialogue it will vary because of the influence of your own voice. Your voice slipping into the Texan's results in a muddled choice of words and expressions, making for a lousy piece of dialogue.
When writing non-fiction, don't think about how others might sound. Just let it flow, the way you would a letter or your journal. That helps you delve within and locate your real voice. It's a time consuming process, but it's an unavoidable one.
There are books on this subject, but the least expensive way to develop your voice is to let your thoughts flow onto the page and block out the world around you.
After all, it's your voice quest and your voice is unique. And, like new planets, stars, and DNA, it just takes time and effort to discover.