Have you ever read a review that praised a writer’s voice, or perhaps you’ve been advised to develop your own voice? The phrase “writer’s voice” sounds cute, but what the heck does it mean?
In this post, we’ll define what a writer’s voice is and how to develop one that’s authentic, genuine, and unique to you. Let’s get started.
What Is a Writer’s Voice?
Oh boy, this is a big question.
Depending on who you ask, writer’s voice can be:
A. Your style of writing
B. Your perspective
C. Your tone in writing
D. All of the above
I prefer to go with the inclusive answer: D.
Your writer’s voice is all of the above. Here’s how it breaks down:
Your style of writing
Writing style is all about the mechanics of your storytelling. From word choice to sentence structure, your style is how you choose to tell a story.
Over time, your natural style will develop. No one that I know of is born with a signature style of writing. As you read various works of literature, you’ll be influenced by the style of other writers. You’ll pick up bits and pieces along the way that will eventually define your unique style of writing.
It’s akin to your handwriting.
You may write in short, curt sentences or prefer sweeping, poetic ones. You may soak your writing is descriptive adjectives, or take a more minimalistic approach.
Whatever style you choose, it will eventually become your hallmark.
Every writer has a perspective. Perspective is not to be confused with the story’s point of view, or method of narration (i.e. first person, third person). Instead, perspective is how you choose to view and relay what’s happening in the story.
Perspective is unique to you. Multiple people can look at the same event and each will come away with something different. The idea is that no one else is standing where you are, so you have a different vantage point.
This is certainly true for you, the writer. As you tell any story, you’re bringing your entire history of experiences with you. You can draw from those experiences to describe characters and events. Your perspective will always be individual.
Imagine yourself retelling the story of Pocahontas. Depending on your life experience along with your attitude about the characters and the setting, you may not see Pocahontas as a Disney movie. Perhaps, you see her as a tragic figure. Perhaps, you see her as a triumphant one. The way you see this character is your perspective and it will affect the way you tell the story.
Perspective is a crucial part of your voice because it determines what you bring forward in the story.
Your tone in writing
Your tone is your attitude or feeling about the story you’re writing. Tone can fluctuate throughout the story, depending on the scene or the characters. Your tone can be serious, brooding, sardonic, ironic, wistful, formal, cheerful, comical, .etc.
Tone is instrumental in conveying a story the way that you want it to be experienced. Your tone gives the reader cues on how to feel about what’s happening within the story.
It’s an ambient impression.
Let’s say, you’re talking to a child who was doing something wrong. You might say, “Auntie’s keys aren’t for flushing down the toilet, Sweetie,” or “Stop that right now!”
The meaning didn’t change; it’s the tone of voice that changed. In this example, the voice is patient and instructive or impatient and brusque. You’ll make a different impression on the child based on the words you used and your attitude behind those words.
It’s the same thing with creative writing. Your word choice and how you feel about what’s happening merge together to create a tone that’s evident on every page of your story.
The last thing you want is to be monotone. Readers need to feel your excitement, disappointment, disapproval, relief, .etc, as they read through your story. The tone in which you choose to narrate is part of the experience.
Finding Your Writer’s Voice
So now that you know what writer’s voice is, how do you find your particular writer’s voice?
The truth is, your writer’s voice will take years, if not an entire lifetime, to develop fully. You’re always becoming more and more yourself. However, there are three questions you can use to start defining your writer’s voice, even in its infancy. Ask yourself:
1. What words do you use to describe yourself?
Choose between three to five adjectives to describe yourself as a writer. Your self-description gives insight into the type of voice you’re likely to have.
I like to describe myself as ironic, playful, and conversational. I’m also drawn to writers with similar tone.
The type of writers that appeal to you can also reveal the type of voice you have. We’re often influenced by the writers we love.
2. How do other people describe you?
It’s one thing to describe yourself, but don’t stop there. Ask your family and friends to describe your writing.
I did, and the results: relatable, homespun, and easy to read.
You may think you write one way, but your reader experiences something totally different. Knowing how others experience your writing can help you better define your writer’s voice. The more you realize what readers respond to (your descriptive prose, your quick staccato delivery, your smart word choice), the easier it is to hone in on what resonates and makes you a fantastic storyteller
3. Who are your favorite voices?
In other words, what writers do you love? What are the voices that you’re attracted to? Are they poetic? Matter-of-fact? Do they weave in a unique brand of humor or are they distant and somber?
Describe why you like these voices. How are they similar? How are they different?
Subconsciously, you’ll infuse these voices with your own to create a one-of-a-kind medley.
Your voice is just as important as the story. Your voice affects how you tell the story, what you choose to bring forward, and how you choose to see what’s happening. How you make a reader feel about the events will impact the way they experience your story.
Remember that your writer’s voice won’t develop overnight. It’s forged from years of experiences, after reading mountains of books, and of course, simply writing– lots of writing.
Ultimately, your voice is how readers learn to recognize you. Your voice is authentic to you and should sound genuine to others. Your voice is the way you see the world– and it won’t be the same as the way someone else sees the world. It’s going to be different– that’s why you’re qualified to tell the story.