Posts Tagged ‘voice’

According to The Free Dictionary, voice means “The distinctive style or manner of expression of an author or of a character in a book.”

Our voice is a reflection of who we are. It develops from our unique experiences and expresses our feelings and beliefs. The choices we make regarding the topics we cover, the themes we focus on, the details we include, the sentence structure and vocabulary we use, and the tone of what we write are all part of what makes ours sound different from everyone else’s writing.

Even though we each have a unique voice, it isn’t easy to let it show in what we write. Here are a few tips to help you develop the voice that reflects “you” on the page:

1. Practice writing without self-editing. Don’t worry about how it sounds; just write freely and save the editing for later.

2. Analyze what you’ve written to see where you may need to improve, but also recognize your strengths. Try to do better in all those areas.

3. Think about who you are writing for, and whether or not your writing fulfills the purpose you intend. Determine what you might do differently to communicate more effectively.

4. Write like you’re speaking to a friend. You’re most likely to write honestly if you’re comfortable with who you’re addressing.

5. Consider the experiences your characters would have had, and imagine yourself in their place. Write from their perspective rather than your own to keep all the characters from sounding the same.

6. Read a wide variety of books, not just ones you know you’ll enjoy. Think about what those authors did, how they sound, and the style they used. Practice writing like authors you admire to get a feel for what they’ve done, and apply what you learn to your own writing.

(For more on voice, see my posts from 6/23/09 and 6/17/09 on this topic.)


EDIT JULY 6, 2010Agent Chip MacGregor has a great post on his blog about the meaning of “voice.”  Check it out here.


Do you have a distinctive voice? What makes it unique? Are there any authors whose writing you recognize even when their name isn’t mentioned? What are some other ways to develop “voice?”


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Just between you and me, I was about to call it a day, but at the last minute I decided there’s no time like the present to write a post about clichés. I thought this would be a piece of cake, a slam dunk, a no brainer. However, the more I bat the idea around, the more I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place. Now I’m grasping at straws, but hope springs eternal so keep your fingers crossed that I can get all the bits and pieces of this topic in order and not have to go back to the drawing board.

I could go on forever, but I’m sure you’ve heard all this before—after all, that’s what it means to be a cliché.  

Cliché: overused expressiona phrase or word that has lost its original effectiveness or power from overuse  (Encarta dictionary)

As writers, our job is to choose words that will effectively convey the image we have in our mind to our readers’ minds. There may be occasions when a cliché is the best way to say what we mean, and sometimes using one can help make the dialog more realistic. If we use them too often, though, our writing will be boring and ineffective. We need to avoid clichés and develop our own writing voice.

We also need to be aware of plot clichés. For example, there’s the mystery where “the butler did it;” the villain who delays killing the hero so he can brag about how much smarter he is, why he did whatever it was, etc., giving the hero time to escape; and the ugly duckling that turns into the beautiful swan story. When people have seen a plot device so often that they can anticipate what will happen next, they may not care enough about the story to keep reading. We’ll increase our chance of success as writers if our stories include a unique twist, memorable characters, and a distinctive voice.

To help you identify them in your writing, here are some links to sites listing clichés:

http://clichesite.com/categories.asp   lists of clichés

http://www.westegg.com/cliche/    lists of clichés

http://www.writing-world.com/romance/cliches.shtml   clichés in romance novels

http://www.amethyst-angel.com/cliche.html   Clichés in fantasy stories

Edit March 2, 2012:  Today on his blog, Agent Nathan Bransford wrote a helpful post on plot clichés vs archetypes. http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/03/archetype-vs-cliche.html


What clichés drive you stark raving mad? What’s your favorite cliché?

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Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.
Maya Angelou


In my previous post, I discussed the concept of voice and gave tips for developing it. However, a writer has more than one voice in a story: the narrator and each character has, or should have, a distinctive voice. Learning to write in a way that gives each character individuality and depth, making each one recognizable to the reader by the way they speak or behave, can make a story come to life. Here are some ideas to help you develop your character’s voice:

1. Listen to the way other people talk. Notice what makes each person sound different—their accent, vocabulary, tone.

2. Tell your story to someone else before you write it down. Know what each character’s role is, and what makes her special.

3. Read what you’ve written out loud. Speak naturally, and use vernacular if appropriate. Make the dialogue sound realistic so your characters will be believable.

4. Read authors who have distinctive voices and analyze what makes each one sound different. If a character lacks depth, sounds flat or boring, see if you can tell what is it that made him appear that way.

5. Write from your heart, and don’t worry about what you should write. Be yourself and your story will sound like you wrote it, not someone else.

6. Avoid using clichés. Those expressions became clichés because people use them all the time; they may get your meaning across, but it will sound like something the reader has heard before.

Alan Rinzler, a respected editor/publisher, has a recent post about voice on his blog, and I recommend taking a look at it (after you read my blog posts and leave friendly comments).



How do you make your characters sound different from each other? Do you try to make your narrative voice “invisible” so the description doesn’t take the reader’s attention away from the story; or do you think the narrator’s voice should be recognizable, too? Does it depend on the POV, type of book, or what?

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I’ve been searching for my writer’s “voice,” which everyone says is critical if you want to be a successful author. Lately it occurred to me that it would be easier to find if I knew exactly what it was. So, here’s my take on voice, along with suggestions on how to develop it.

Voice is the flavoring, the scent, the signature style that makes your writing a reflection of you. Or me. Sounds easy; we all are different, so we all have a voice of our own. However, speaking (or writing) in our own voice doesn’t come naturally. We have a self-editor working overtime trying to make our writing sing, sparkle, shine, etc, etc. We want to be as good as our favorite author, as successful as a best-seller, so we imitate their style, or write the type of story we think will make us rich and famous. We ignore our own special view of life, or scrub away the traces of our uniqueness, to appear more like we think we should be. In doing so, we lose the very thing that makes our writing special. We sacrifice our true voice on the altar of success, hoping for a miracle—hoping to get published.

Voice is more than the style of writing we choose; it also involves our world view, our choice of words, and the way we use them to express ourselves. It is us, on paper. If the reader can’t see something special in our writing, we haven’t projected our personality into it. We could be anybody. Our writing could belong to anybody.

I used to think my voice was scholarly, informative, accurate, logical, precise. And it was, but that’s because I was faking it. I wasn’t using my own voice; it was the one that belonged to the woman I wanted to be. I thought if I sounded intelligent I would be respected, admired, and successful; if I wrote honestly, allowed all the silly, scatterbrained ideas I have to surface in my writing, I would be ridiculed. I would be embarrassed. I would be a failure. And that’s a possibility. But the more I write for myself instead of others, shoving that neurotic self-editor back into the corner of my brain where it belongs, the more fun I have and the more I like what shows up in my Word processor.

Here are a few ways to help find your writing voice:

1. Experiment by spending some time writing whatever comes to mind, without stopping to edit it. Set it aside for a few days, and then analyze it for strengths and weaknesses. After a few sessions of free-writing, you may see a pattern that reveals something unique about you: your interests, your style, your passion.

2. Read a variety of authors, in genres you like and those you don’t. Pick out things they do well, and imitate that quality in a short writing exercise. Pick out a passage that didn’t work well, and try to write it better. Thinking about what works and what doesn’t may give you a new perspective when you are writing your own stories.

3. Be honest. You can sugar-coat what you say, or tone down your passion, but always be true to yourself. Your characters can have different opinions, behave in ways you never would, but your voice should be recognizable in the values, themes, and style you use to write their story. Your personality should shine through the words so that even if you write about something that’s considered cliché, it will sound unique.


Have you found your voice? Has it changed over time, or stayed the same? Any tips for those still searching?


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