Each and every writer has a distinct way of writing. We repeat certain words, phrases, and expressions; there are patterns in how we arrange words in sentences and paragraphs, and our writing often carries a recognizable tone and rhythm.
The term for this is voice.
Wikipedia defines one’s voice in writing as “a combination of common usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works).”
In several of my college literature courses, we were given long lists of quotes from literary works, and we had to identify the author of each one. The professors didn’t expect us to memorize the entire literary canon; we were to have learned how to identify each author’s voice.
Imagine someone reading a snippet of text and knowing that you wrote it! That’s voice.
How to Develop Your Voice in Writing
It can take years for a writer to develop a distinct voice. Some writers have a natural voice. Others work at crafting a unique voice with a particular tone or attitude. And plenty of writers don’t think about voice at all. But voice is a key element of writing, because it represents you as a writer and can help readers connect with your work. For example, some readers will be turned off by a sarcastic tone whereas others may be drawn to it. By cultivating your voice, you can exert more creative control over your work and its performance in the marketplace.
Here are some tips for developing your voice in writing:
- Study literature. You can do this in a formal setting, but you can also study on your own. Read several works by the same author. Take notes about the identifying features of the writer’s voice. Compare the voices of two or more authors.
- Describe authors’ voices, including your own. After reading a piece, make a list of five words that describe the author’s voice. Was it serious? Funny? Witty? Review your own work and do the same.
- Talk to someone. Not literally. Your tone and manner changes, depending on whom you’re speaking with. You probably don’t talk to your grandmother the same way you talk to your best friend. Now apply that to your writing. Who are your readers? How do you talk to them?
- Get an outside opinion. Show your work to some friends and ask them to describe your voice in three words or fewer. Do their descriptions of your voice in writing match the voice you want to project?
- Be your best self. Try writing as naturally as you can. Don’t think too much as you put the words down. Focus more on the thoughts, ideas, and images that you’re expressing. Review the piece to examine your voice. Is that the real you? Are there parts of your voice that you want to work on, like phrases you repeat too often or words that are unnecessary? Fine-tune your voice in writing.
- Personality: If you’re writing a history text, the style should be without any discernible personality. But in creative writing, readers connect with prose that shows style and personality. Does your writing match your personality? Does it take on a new persona, depending on what you’re writing? Ask some friends if they detect your personality in your prose.
- Emotion: Many creative works are emotional. Horror stories often have a scary or brooding tone. Romance can range from passionate to humorous. Does the emotional tone of your voice match the emotional tone of your work?
The best way to develop your voice in writing is to simply pay attention. Examine other writers’ voices as well as your own. Ask challenging questions about how your voice comes across, put some effort into crafting a voice that is identifiable and uniquely yours, and keep writing!