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Finding your writer's voice

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Finding your writer's voice.

How did you discover your voice as a writer? Was it gradual or over night? Was it technical or emotional?

It can be as simple as finding a style that you are at ease with.

For me it was a change of perspective from 3rd person to 1st in the same story. The change was immediate. I can still write in 3rd omniscient but the move to 1st was the trigger for me.

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I never "discovered" my writer's voice. I've only ever written what I want to write. I may push myself at times by doing something different, but that's in genres and topics. I've never tried to alter the way I word things, the way I say things.

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I think you have to adopt a voice for each story, and of course whether you're writing in 1st or 3rd person makes a huge difference there. You first have to decide which person you're writing in, and should have a substantial, meaningful reason for what you pick. After you decide that, how you want the voice you're writing in to sound is your next decision. It should be based on the plot, and the way the story will unfold. EleCivil often wrote in a whimsical, light-hearted voice that fit his stories beautifully. Douglas wrote in a more serious voice that acted as a solid base for his writing.

My feeling is you should be aware of what voice and person will best serve your purposes. This of course means a different voice with each story. That makes sense, does't it?


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But that's different to a "writer's voice". I write what seems natural to the story I'm writing...which is what you're talking about. That's not a "writer's voice", though -- that's a story's voice. Of course it's possible that I write only stories that have one voice so I don't understand the distinction...

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I believe a ‘writer’s voice’ is different from what Cole is talking about, which is the voice, or point-of-view, the writer selects to tell a particular story. My understanding is that ‘writer’s voice’ is a way of describing a particular writer’s personality as implied by the way he expresses himself and by the kind of subjects he chooses to write about.

Even here on this forum we are familiar with the different ‘voices’ of our members; we have come to know them as ranging from snarky to supportive, from pedantic to uncertain, from friendly to reserved. Each member here chooses how to present who he is by how he constructs his comments and observations. To some of us the glass is always half empty, to some it is half full. Some of our voices are instantly recognizable to others. Some voices change, as we change and develop and solidify who we are and what we stand for.

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As I've been pondering this issue I come out in much the same place as Merkin above. It seems to me that speaking of a writer's "voice" is more than just a metaphor. In fact, it can be compared to nurturing, training, and developing an actual human voice.

Opera singers learn to produce lovely sounds by applying a number of technical methods to open their throats, lower their larynxes, relax their jaw muscles, use correct posture, and support from the diaphragm as they make sound. They perform exercises for stretching, relaxation, and strengthening of relevant muscles. They also work on matters of pitch (intonation), volume, attack and release of notes. All of this combines to produce a result that is, in fact, their actual "voice." And as they age, and as they gain experience, and as the physical changes of aging affect the various mechanisms, that voice evolves and matures.

The same is true for classically trained stage actors. My undergraduate school had a renowned drama school where Edith Skinner taught aspiring actors precisely how to produce sound that would fill a theater, to pronounce words precisely, and to phrase and modulate their words so as to convey the maximum impact. At the end of the day, it was still the actor's own voice that was coming out, and the actor was in control of it, but with this coaching and development it expanded the range and quality of what the actor could do.

I think there is a lot of beneficial coaching and training available for writers, but a lot of it is self-taught in the same sense that learning to play the guitar is self-taught. Yes, it is good to go to a guitar teacher, but in the end it is the student who is actually holding the instrument and making the sounds. The teacher can explain how to achieve certain things, and advise on drills for warming up and flexibilty, and assist with technical challenges, but the student, in the end, must actually do the playing. (I am reminded of the saying, "I can explain it to you but I can't understand it for you.") And there will be students who take a basic idea offered by the teacher and run with it, developing fantastic new things the teacher would never have thought of.

So it is, it seems to me, with writing. A writer today needs some basics, like knowing how to type (or write in longhand, heaven forbid), understanding a fair amount about grammar and punctuation, and so forth. But just as an aspiring guitarist does a lot of his learning by listening to other guitarists and deciding to explore what they have done, a writer does a lot of reading to see what other writers are doing. And just as, in the end, the guitarist can improve only by actually practicing and playing, the writer ultimately writes. And the opera singer ultimately sings. And the stage actor actually acts.

I would define a writer's "voice," therefore, as his level of facility at producing a worthwhile written product -- however "worthwhile" may be defined in any particular case.

The big difference from an opera singer or an actor is that the writer is starting with an idea and producing a product, not merely reproducing someone else's idea. Indeed, I would argue that part of the writer's "voice" is the very facility of generating ideas in the first place, and having some notion of how to nurture them into a written product. In that sense, the writer's voice is a much more comprehensive creative faculty.


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I agree with Graeme and James. I was initially talking about what they termed 'story voice' rather than 'writer's voice'. I'd never heard that term, but it seems to work well. I try hard to use a different story voice in everything I write. Sometimes I can do it better than others. Sometimes I like what I end up using better than others.

I suppose to some extent we all do have a writer's voice, especially as defined by Rugabaga. And following that definition, it's always changing, always maturing to an extent.

especially if we're any good and care about what we're doing.

It's difficult for me to imagine a more creative enterprise than writing. And that, to me, is what makes it so challenging and so much fun.


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On re-reading what I said above I realized that I had not really closed the loop on what I was trying to say.

What I was getting at is that a writer doesn't suddenly move from a state of "not having a voice" to a state of "having a voice." It's not like the ending scene in "The Wizard of Oz" where the Wizard hands out certificates to give the Scarecrow a brain and the Tin Woodman a heart. Rather, it is a matter of nurturing the natural gifts that are already there and augmenting them with experience, technical information and training, and practice. It may well be that someone will conclude that they have "found" their voice when the elements come together and cause them to feel competent and efficacious in what they are doing, and motivated to continue doing it. But it's not as though one day a bell will ring and people will proclaim, "There it is! There's that voice! Now you're in business!" Rather, I think it is a very personal experience, often malleable and mercurial, that things seem to be going in a useful direction. And the definition of "useful" is a very individual one. Someone may be extremely good at producing a particular kind of writing, and be well-paid for it (a rather rare circumstance for writers, I admit), yet hate the work. So it's only useful as a way of making a living, but not as a way of nurturing the soul.

In the end, I think that by sometime in the mid-to-late teenage years, when the brain has largely finished connecting itself up, we all generally have some kind of a voice as writers or creators. After that it's a matter of learning the craft, studying what others have done, and using that voice to see how it develops.


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Pressfield wrote in his article:

The stories I’ve written, I never knew I had them in me before they came out. I discovered who I was by what I wrote. It was only after those characters and those narratives appeared that I realized they were a part of me. They were me.

Ain't that the truth!

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To me the writers voice is like the old argument about the difference between art and p0rn: don't ask me to define it but I know it when I hear it.

IMHO, the very best example of the writer's voice on this site is

by Frederic

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