Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Writer's Workshop: Using Your Own Voice

This is another in my writer's workshop series helping folks to refine their writing skills. Today, I wanted to talk about writer's voice.

A writer's voice? It contains several elements, from your education level, life experiences, religious and cultural influences, world view, what you tend to focus on when observing the world or describing events and your attitude, whether it's serious or light-hearted.

Two people can explain an event, but be telling two completely different stories. Not good or bad, purely biased based on what details they note. The writer's voice is like that. Through his own biases and posturing, an author can guide you to see what he wants you to see by the way he goes about describing a scene. As well, depending on his technical focus or his sense of humor, he could write a tragedy or a farce.

Let's take 2 people and have them both run into a motorist on the road who parked his car and was running naked down the median in his work shoes and dress socks:

"The poor man must have been robbed! He looked terrified. He just wanted to put some distance between him and the perpetrator. I looked around for who was after him, but they must have left the scene. I wanted to stop and give him a blanket, but I figured I should call the police from the safety of my car. You just don't know what scene you're getting in the middle of. Someone might have a gun! I just knew on a gut level this was not going to end well."

Our second witness:

"So, this dude was streaking along the highway median. It was so freaking hilarious, I had to pull over and set my coffee cup down. I pulled out my phone to get a few pictures, but he was going so fast, it was like trying to film Bigfoot in the woods. I can just see his explanation to his wife when she bails him out of jail. `No, honey, I'm not a pervert. No, I don't want us to join a clothing optional spa. No, I wasn't running from an angry husband after doing his wife.' Poor crazy bastard!"

Same scene, two completely different takes. Exciting, huh? You design a character, a setting and event and you can tell it thousands of different ways.

So, how does one go about writing with his/her voice?

The best suggestion I know of to use your own voice is to forget anything ever told to you about sentence structure. Too many writers get caught up in "She went to the door and opened it. The dog came rushing at her excitedly. They went to the living room to sit down and rest." No more "noun" followed by "verb" followed by adverb or noun. Try varying it. "When she swung open the door, the dog leaped out excitedly. At this point, they both needed a rest." Don't be afraid to make a sentence one or two words. "She wasn't going to think about him. Not one minute more. Nope."

Your own way of noticing things, whether it weighs heavily with visual, sound, scent or emotion is the key to using your own voice. The way you think might be broken, not in eloquent sentences, might even be in slang or with a bitter attitude, a sense of wonder or humor, tragedy or remorse. We have as many voices as we have moods, but one thing is consistent: The way you convey the world, what you focus on - the emotional content, the characters, the situations, the atmosphere, the action, the insight. So, you can do a humorous piece (your dialect) but your voice will always remain yours (atmosphere and character driven focus).

Do you want to find out what writer you write like? Here's a very cool site that allows you to write a bit and then let it analyze your style compared to other authors. Apparently, I'm James Joyce in my writer's voice.


  1. Great tips. I will check out that site to see what my writer's voice reveals.

  2. Good tips, especially the intentional fragment part. That's a huge element in crafting a more familiar narrative style.

  3. Thanks for the tips! I will be using these for sure when I write my zombie childrens book. lol.

  4. Thank you!! and @Zombie...TOTALLY looking forward to a children's zombie book. DO IT!

  5. Great tips! That 'I Write Like' site is sooooo cool! I whacked in a blog post to be analyzed and apparently I write like H. P. Lovecraft!! Haha!