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!
I have often noticed that writers tend to have a favourite way of putting things, and that they often have ‘pet incidents’ that seem to find their way into more than one novel, even if the characters are not continuations of those in earlier books. Linton Barclay is a fine example of this is his excellent crime novels, and even Stephen King has recurring and ‘ouchy’ references to poison ivy!
I don’t know if you are aware of the website ‘I write like’? You probably wouldn’t approve of it, but it can be quite interesting; I have got the same author each time I have submitted my stuff to it, so at least it is consistent!
Have a good day, Melissam
I haven’t heard of the website I Write Like, but it looks interesting. I’m not sure about the technology behind it, but if it really compares our prose to that of established authors, then it would be interesting to see who we write like. Right now I cannot get the site to load, so I’ll have to check it out later.
I know I have a writing style, and I believe I am consistent -but I haven’t the foggiest idea what that would be.
Words flow through me, with little forethought. The stories come alive as I type them on my screen. I hope that others will enjoy my words, but I am as untrained as a new born babe. Scary, uh?
I liked this article. Thanks for giving all of us these wonderful tips.
People find their style in different ways. Some of us write a lot and may even change according to people’s reactions.
Although I have learned to be more careful when commenting to posts and others’ comments, I chose the way I wrote in my novel and I wasn’t about to change it for anyone but myself. Though I did discover from my editor certain pesky words or phrases that I tended to repeat. I may have used the word “just” about 50 times!
Me too — the best thing about working with an editor was discovering my own writing quirks!
I don’t think it’s scary. I think it’s pretty cool! You’re welcome.
Great post, Melissa. I like the advice to compare several works by the same author to get a handle on what makes their voice distinct. Will share this on Twitter.
An interesting post. I’m unsure what my voice is. It’s not humerous, that I do know.
You Talk about favourite words and phrases, or particular incidents as part of ‘voice’. But we are often told to check for these writing ‘tics’ and eliminate them. Wouldn’t this alter the writer’s voice?
I’m not sure what is meant by writing “tics.” Yes, any writer can have favorite words, phrases, or habits that are either good or bad (or neutral). Of course, if it weakens the writing, we should try to eliminate a habit. As an example of what I was describing, one person might always say, “Terrific!” upon receiving good news while another person might always say, “That’s awesome!” It’s just a preferred word or phrase that is one part of someone’s voice (in writing).
You have covered a really interesting topic here. And from what I have experienced, the voice keeps evolving through time, experiences, and emotions.
And I think that is the reason that when I look back at my own work, that once I loved, now seems a little less appealing.
It is truly intriguing to be able to notice changes in your own voice because of how much your personality is different yet similar to the person you were before.
Thanks for sharing such a thought-provoking article, I admire your voice 🙂
I agree that many writers’ voices change over time. Interesting, isn’t it?