“I don’t even have to see the cover of the book to know I’m reading one of your novels.”
That was the nicest compliment a reader has ever paid me. After years of practice, success and failures, constantly trying to improve my writing, it was wonderful to know that I had finally crossed a threshold: I had found my voice. For other arts, voice is almost instantly identifiable. Fine artists, for instance, communicate through color choice and brush stroke; for musicians it is in melody and instrumentation. For writers creating a recognizable voice is a bit trickier.
Our art cannot be covered up by color nor enhanced by sound; it cannot be appreciated with a mere glance or as background to another chore. A reader must invest time, attention and money to appreciate our work. These limitations make voice critical to our success in an increasingly crowded field. If we do not connect with our reader, drawing them in with our words, format construction and storytelling, they will dismiss us and move on to someone who does.
Voice is personal and intimate. Writing in a true voice puts the author on a limb and opens her to both praise and criticism. We wouldn’t write if we weren’t willing to take a chance that our voice will touch someone, move them to action, make them think, make them cry, but it is a gamble whether our most honest voice will be appreciated. If you’re ready to take a bold step, to write with abandon, to search for your true voice, here are a few thoughts that might help you find it.
Identify what you love about your favorite author. Is it pace? Characterization? Expository talent? Emulate, never copy, her style. A reader doesn’t want a cookie cutter author; they want a refreshing voice that reminds them of their favorite author.
Recognize your verbal comfort zone. Some authors embrace analogy, metaphore and any number of literary conceits; some don’t. If you’re comfortable with short clipped sentences in the vernacular, embrace that style and make it yours.
Establish your energy level. Does your first sentence slap your reader upside the head, or do you prefer a long, slow climb that settles the reader before you let them into the fray? Whichever it is, don’t let anyone try to change that.
Voice is not just a writing style it is point of view that is shared in dialogue choices, character and plot development.
Be proud of your voice. There is no right voice for an author or a genre. Evidence? Epic romances share space with glitz and glamour and all of it gave rise to chic lit. Each author’s voice was valid in the genre in its heyday, and each was unique and fresh when they hit the scene so do not discount yours if it doesn’t match the mainstream.
It is your job to discover your voice. Explore it. Nurture it. Refine it. Claim it. Present it. Be proud of it.