Each story has a flow of sound like music. A unique beat, rhythm, tone. Writers, too, have a voice, recognizable throughout their entire body of work. Some singers have a crystal clear quality of tonality like Julie Andrews. I think of it as a bubbling, high arching fountain. Others, a deep, full sound like Etta James with a rich, Mississippi River quality.
Editors and agents look for authors with a strong or unique “voice.” Your writing voice is already part of you, the sum total of your personality and experiences, your distinctive way of looking at the world. The indefinable essence of who you are—Your voice is defined by what you have to say and how you choose to say it.
Writing voice will be determined by—
•Gender—Tom Clancy will never be mistaken for Barbara Cartland
•Time period—Herman Melville vs. Ernest Hemingway
•Culture—Charles Frazier vs. Maya Angelou
•Target audience—J.K. Rowling vs. Nicholas Sparks
•Area of expertise—John Grisham vs. Kathy Reichs
•Worldview—F. Scott Fitzgerald vs. Francine Rivers
Writers reveal a great deal about themselves—more so than they realize—in the stories they feel compelled to tell, in their empathy for characters they create, in their passion for particular story themes, and the insight with which they develop character actions/reactions.
Your natural writing voice will flow—and overflow—out of the abundance of your individual life journey. It is only out of this—what you know plus a good dose of an innate ability to imagine—that will enable you to write with honesty, conviction and courage.
Voice is not style or technique. It’s not branding. Although, understanding your voice will help you market yourself. If you want to make a living selling your words, you must understand you are selling yourself—your life perspective, your unique beliefs, hopes, fears, memories and passions. The honest-to-God, real you. And that will require a great deal of courage. Because we are trained from childhood to mask our real selves, to hide behind the facade of who we think we should be. We allow the world only a glimpse of the self we want them to see.
Writers with a strong voice have managed to overcome this fear of exposure to share their real self with gut-wrenching honesty. You have to be brave enough to put yourself on the page. And when you get beyond the false you to the real you—it is a powerful, exhilarating experience.
Start by giving yourself permission to say things in your own way. You don’t speak or sing like anyone else. Why should you expect to write like everyone else?
Donald Maas advises, “ To set your voice free, set your words free. Set your characters free. Most important, set your heart free . . . Your voice is your self in the story.”
How to Enhance Your Natural Writing Voice
1. Read—Writers are readers first. Your choice of reading material is often a good indicator of a writing style that resonates with you and what you write. Reading can develop your natural gift and quicken the cadence of your writing “ear.” Cadence is the mix of narrative, description and dialogue in your writing. The juxtaposition of long versus short paragraphs, sensory details and choice of POV—the rhythm of your voice.
2. Write—Your writing voice is like a muscle. You must exercise this muscle to fine tune and nurture the gift that lies within. Write what you see and think and know. Allow yourself to write dreadful. Nothing you write will be wasted. All of it becomes part of developing your authentic voice, increasing your range and gaining mastery of your craft.
3. Listen— Hone your observation skills. When people speak, tune your ear to the subtlety of what they’re really saying. Find what’s authentic and transfer that authenticity to your words.
4. Discover—What is your passion? What do you love? What draws you? More than just writing what you know, NY Times bestselling author, Virginia Kantra says, “Write what you love.” This is where the musicality of your voice resounds. You will make music when you find the heart of your stories and that core message/truth only you can deliver. Which once discovered, you will deliver story after story, again and again.
5. Embrace—Find other authors who “get” you and the stories your heart longs to tell. Sometimes it requires a friend/outsider to help you to identify your true voice. Most of us, consciously or not, find ourselves writing book after book which reflects a central life theme/truism for us as individuals. Probably arising out of the broken home of my childhood, the stories my heart wants to tell revolve around creating family, restoration and hope.
6. Release—Let go of the fear that holds you back from expressing your truest self. Learn to trust your voice. Authority, power and confidence come with the repeated practice of expression. Continue to grow your voice with new experiences; beware of complacence and stagnation.
Vocalists always begin with arpeggio exercise runs just as athletes develop their own muscle warm up routines. Deepen your characters. Dig down deep to their—and your—emotional heart.
Writing is not for the timid. Take risks. Fear can be a writer’s best friend. As one author once lamented, “Every morning I sit down, figuratively slit my emotional veins, and bleed out all over the screen.”
Sometimes it is only in our brokenness that we enter those “thin places”—where for a moment the veil between humanity and the divine is lifted. By delving into the deep waters, we find and become a part of where the Spirit of God is at work—in us and in the world.
When you find yourself on the edge of your seat while writing—your heart thumping, your hands shaking—you’ve probably written something that will be worth reading. Don’t allow fear to stop you. Don’t be afraid to confront your personal barriers to truth in voice. The next time you read something that moves you, realize that writer moved beyond her own fears and wrote those words anyway.
Now go and do likewise.
Has a particular book or favorite author moved you? Where have you encountered a “thin place” in your writing or someone else’s?
GIVEAWAY! Lisa is giving away 2 copies of Beyond the Cherokee Trail. Please leave a comment letting us know you'd like to be entered! Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
Blending Southern and Native American fiction, Lisa Carter writes “Sweet Tea with a Slice of Murder”. Her latest release is Beyond the Cherokee Trail, a 4 1/2 star Romantic Times Top Pick. The Christy-nominated, Under a Turquoise Sky is a 2015 Carol Finalist. The author of seven romantic suspense novels and a Coast Guard series, Lisa enjoys traveling to romantic locales and researching her next exotic adventure. As a North Carolinian, she has strong opinions on barbecue and ACC basketball. Connect with Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.
Beyond the Cherokee Trail
180 years may not be long enough to heal the wounds of the past…
When Linden Birchfield arrives in the Snowbird Cherokee community to organize the 180th commemoration of the Trail of Tears, she runs head on—literally—into arrogant, former army sniper Walker Crowe. A descendant of the Cherokee who evaded deportation by hiding in the rugged Snowbird Mountains, Walker believes no good can result from stirring up the animosity between his people and the white Appalachian residents whose ancestors looted the tribal lands so long ago.
Though at odds over the commemoration, Linden and Walker must unite against an unseen threat to derail the festival. Together they face an adversary whose implacable hatred can be traced to the events of the Trail, a dark chapter in America’s westward expansion. Walker must thwart the enemy who threatens the modern-day inhabitants of tiny Cartridge Cove—and targets the woman who has captured his heart.