Finding Your Voice as a Writer

Voice. Find your voice as a writer, they say. What exactly does that mean? You may be struggling to find your own unique voice as a writer and author, trying to find what makes your work different, what makes it stand out. Voice, essentially, is the unique mixture of vocabulary, syntax, tone, and point of view that makes you as a writer. The way you write your story, a way only you can tell your story, should make your readers feel something. It’s almost manipulative, in a way, how we control our readers’ emotions, isn’t it?

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I don’t believe that finding your own unique voice as a writer is an easy thing to do. Many times, in the early days of writing, we try to imitate our favorite authors and writers in an attempt to find who we are as writers. Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not. There is, of course, a difference between an author’s voice and character voice. Character voice is something a skilled author can imbibe upon any given character in a story, utilizing a unique tone and choice of vocabulary for said character. You may see more of a character’s voice in a story that’s written in first person, but this can be character’s voice. For example, The Giver (written by the great Lois Lowry) is written from the Jonas’ point of view, a twelve-year-old boy who’s about to receive his assignment in his community, and he’s anxious because he doesn’t really know where he fits in. In the first few pages of the novel, he’s deciding how he wants to describe how he feels at dinner discussion with his family unit. (He decides on apprehensive.) The narration is voiced through Jonas. Every word is carefully written from the point of view of Jonas.

However, one could say that this narration in The Giver is unique to Lowry, making it her voice as a writer. The vocabulary, tone, and point-of-view are unique to Lowry’s style. One definitely wouldn’t confuse it with, say, Ernest Hemingway or Emily Brontë.

Here are a few tips and exercises you can try for finding your voice as a writer:

  1. Be consistent.
    No matter what sort of style you use, what vocabulary or dialect you choose for your story, or even how flowery your description is, be sure to be consistent. If you like long, lengthy descriptions, try to stick to long, lengthy descriptions in your story. The one facet you may decide to vary on is POV. However, I wouldn’t change POV within the same story — that is, if you use first person, stick to first person in the same novel. What I mean is you may decide to use first person in one novel, and third person in another story. Switching between POV types within the same novel may be confusing for readers.
  2. Formal or colloquial?
    Decide whether you want to be formal or informal in your voice. Do you include swearing/cursing in your stories? Big, complex words? Or do you prefer more informal vocabulary and vernacular?
  3. Do you want your stories driven by description or dialogue?
    Some writers like lengthy passages of flowy description, while others prefer their stories to be driven forward more so by dialogue.
  4. Describe your voice (or what you want it to be) in five words.
    This can be a great exercise in figuring out who you want to be as a writer. Really think about what five words you would use to describe your style and voice.
  5. Ask your friends, family, fellow writers or critique partners to describe your voice in five words.
    Same concept as describing yourself, but you’re asking others to describe your writing. You may be truly surprised at the feedback you get.
  6. Analyze your favorite voices in writing.
    Make a list of a few of your favorite author voices and write down what you love most about them. Is it their description? Their dialogue? Their syntax? Their POV? Take what you discover and try to apply it to your own writing, or simply play around with a few scenes in that particular voice you’re trying to imitate.

No matter how you find your voice as a writer, try to be consistent, as it is a way readers can recognize you. However, bear in mind that it can take a lifetime to develop your true voice, so don’t fret if you don’t feel like you’ve quite gotten the hang of it. We’re all on this writing journey, trying to figure ourselves and our stories out.

Story Ideas: Where to Get Them

Sometimes, it feels as though the ideas just won’t come. Your brain is dry of all inspiration. You stare blankly at a blank screen, attempting to will yourself to think of something, anything, to write. Maybe you’ve already written one manuscript and are attempting to write a second one. Maybe you’re worried you only had one good idea in you. I am here to tell you that there’s hope!

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Coming up with a story idea is just the first step in novel writing. Without an idea, there’s nothing to write about. Fortunately, inspiration can come from anywhere. I personally enjoy prompts, and currently have six or seven novel ideas written down in my notebook, thanks to various prompts I’ve found on the web. The current first-draft manuscript I’m working on, End of Days (working title), was inspired by an episode of Gotham. A lot of elements of my stories are derived from real-life situations from my own experiences.

So, yes, you can find inspiration from all around you, whether it’s a snippet of conversation you happen to overhear, or someone you see in public for a character idea. The world around you is rife with story ideas; you just have to reach out and snatch them up.

Here are a few places you can look for inspiration:

  1. Story/Dialogue/Character Prompts
    You’ll find tons of these on the internet on various writing websites. You can even find them sorted by genre. They’re little one- or two-line bits of text, usually with a premise of some sort of setting, situation, dialogue, or person. Personally, I find these very helpful for coming up with at least a premise of a novel, even if I haven’t come up with an entire plot yet.
  2. The Classics
    There’s no denying that Little Shop of Horrors is a work of pure musical and story-telling mastery. (Okay, I admit it — it’s my favorite musical, and I’m dying to see the current off-Broadway cast.) I was interested to learn that the stage version (not the movie version!) is based on the Greek tragedy of greed — the idea that greed kills anything and everything around you. The lyrics of Little Shop of Horrors also draw from the 18th century German literary movement, Sturm and Drang, to add to the feel of the play. (“Feel the Sturm and Drang in the air, yeah.”) So, my whole point? The classics, including Roman and Greek mythology, can be great for inspiration.
  3. Ask Yourself: What if?
    Real life is great for finding story inspiration. Whether it’s an interaction you had with a friend, someone you saw in public who was intriguing, or that time you were in the hospital, you can draw from the world around you. Take that one little snippet and ask yourself, “What if?” Some of the greatest story ideas start with a simple question: What if?
  4. Fairy Tales, Fables, or Legends
    Similar to looking to the classics for inspiration, you can find great ideas by taking a peek at fairy tales or old folk tales. Wicked was inspired by The Wizard of Oz and tells the tales of the great witches of Oz.
  5. Analyze the Elements of Fiction
    Consider the important elements that make up fiction: character, plot, setting, style, point-of-view, theme. Pick one and really think about what you would like to read in a work that has that element, whether it’s a certain strong character, a particular setting, a theme that’s personal to you.

There are a lot of places to find inspiration for a story idea; you just have to look around! Of course, coming up with a spark of an idea is just the beginning — you then have to build the story around the elements of fiction.

Where do you get your story ideas?