A Writer’s Style & Voice

Writing as Art IconThis is one of those topics where I can’t claim any expertise. In fact, I’m not sure very many people could. A writer’s style and voice are very subjective things. What appeals to one person may turn another completely off reading past the first page. Then, you also can’t confuse the author’s voice with the voice of their narrators.

Ok. I can see your eyes glazing over already. How about I define these words instead of just throwing them around.

Style

Wikipedia defines writing style as “the manner in which a writer addresses a matter. A style reveals the writer’s personality or voice. It is the result of the choices the writer makes in syntactical structures, diction, and figures of thought.”

So style is how you handle the mechanics of writing. It includes all the punctuation, the types of sentence structures you favor, your experience and education in life that forms your word choices.

Holly Lisle has a great article titled “Ten Steps to Finding your Writing Voice” that discusses the differences between style and voice on her web pages. In the article, she says the best way writers have to sell themselves is to put themselves on the page.

This is what is known in the writing business as developing your voice. Voice isn’t merely style. Style would be easy by comparison. Style is watching your use of adjectives and doing a few flashy things with alliteration. Style without voice is hollow.

– Holly Lisle, “Ten Steps to Finding your Writing Voice”

So, a piece of writing can be technically perfect, yet it just sits there on the page, dead. What can you do to liven it up? Infuse it with your voice. When you’re telling your friends a good story that has them laughing and maybe even crying right along with you, would a transcription of your anecdote be technically perfect and lifeless on the page?

Probably not. What’s different? Should anything be different?

Voice

The difference is voice and many would argue that your speaking voice and your writing voice are essentially the same, and if they’re not, you’re being inauthentic. (Remember, this is authorial voice, not a character or narrator’s voice.) I’m not sure if I believe the inauthentic part, but it may be that you’re not confident about what you’re writing yet.

Let’s go back to Holly Lisle’s article on steps to develop your voice a minute and see what she says about voice and why style without voice is destined to flop lifelessly on the page.

Voice is style, plus theme, plus personal observations, plus passion, plus belief, plus desire. Voice is bleeding onto the page, and it can be a powerful, frightening, naked experience.

– Holly Lisle, “Ten Steps to Finding your Writing Voice”

Voice, then, is all the author’s technical style along with all their choice of themes, emotions, and personal truths that colors their writing and show through in every book of theirs that makes it possible to pick out a snippet from the middle and read it aloud and the people familiar with that author will just know who wrote it, in the same way that great musicians can play the same piece of music on the same instrument and sound completely different.

Developing Voice

Why can’t anyone agree what “style” and “voice” are? “I’ll know it when I hear/read/see it” is a common response when agents and acquiring editors are asked what they’re looking for. What’s an unpubbed author to do? The problem with all arts is that they’re subjective. There are a few objective and quantitative aspects to them, but for the most part they’re all about what emotions the piece of art evokes from its audience and are completely qualitative (where quality is in the eye of the beholder).

How can less experienced writers improve and develop their voice? Holly Lisle’s article covers many techniques and exercises for doing so, but the most common suggestions I’ve seen are:

  • Read everything you can get your hands on, especially the classics
  • Write. Write. Write. And then, write some more.
  • Record yourself telling a story. Record yourself reading your writing. Compare, contrast. Keep what works.
  • Write. Write. Write. And then, write some more.
  • Don’t be afraid to take risks and give yourself permission to write an awful first draft. You may end up keeping more than you thought without revising the life out of it before the story is completely on the page.

 

I’ve been told I have a nice Regency voice. Do I consciously employ a certain voice when I write? Not really. I try to throw in a few archaic phrasings and terms, but maybe my diction and vocabulary just naturally fit well with this genre. Do I think I need to work on my voice and style? Absolutely! It could be a matter of perspective and personal bias, but my writing still feels pretty lifeless on the page, but I know I need to write. Write. Write. And then, write some more.

What are you actively doing to develop your voice and style? Do you feel you’ve found your “voice”?

14 responses to “A Writer’s Style & Voice

  1. This is great…and for me, perfect timing. There’s been some chit chat as beta readers peek at my 1st chapter about my voice and what it’s doing/not doing etc – Growth? Acceptance? Honing? A little bit of all of those things? Probably D.

    But, I’m excited to look that Holly Lisle article over more in depth. I’m thinking this is part of that whole darn “branding” thing we were talking about ;)

    • Glad it was timely for you! I think you’ll enjoy that article. She has a lot of gems on there.

      And I agree, it’s definitely a part of branding, one of those “low-level instinctive” parts. Not something you can immediately point to necessarily, unless you’ve built up a large body of published work. It’s one of the things I notice about comments regarding authors who pass. Almost everyone mentions some aspect of their voice and how they were affected/touched by their writing. Oh, and their favorite characters.

  2. Great post, Kaige! I don’t think I’ve found my voice yet, but I think I have a pretty good idea what it sounds like–it’s just a matter of practicing, practicing, practicing…and then whipping it into shape so the words on the page “sound” to the reader like they do in my head. If that makes any sense. :) I’m still very much in the “write my heart out” stages of this journey, but I’m confident I’m headed in the right direction. :P

    • It makes a lot of sense to me, Sally. I’m still working on making sure some of the images/ideas make it from my head to the page, but sometimes that illusive word has to be substituted for a less specific or fuzzier one in the meantime. Confidence is so much of this writing gig… glad to hear you’re on the right track!

  3. Interesting post, Kaige.

    I have found my voice…I think. I couldn’t tell you what it is. Others read my wips, my books and are more aware of what my voice sounds like than I am. But then I write more on instinct than analysing. It’s how my brain works. Sometimes it’s really annoying, lol

    I am aware of it changing with the genre, though. With Fantasy it becomes a touch more lyrical, with Paranormal and SF it’s harder, grittier (that spelling looks wrong lol)

    • I wonder if it’s like when you hear your speaking voice played back to you for the first time. It’s not as easily recognizable to yourself.

      Have you ever asked any of those people if your writing sounds like our speaking voice, Kim?

  4. Katrina Williams

    Great topic Kaige! Voice is like Santa Claus. Everyone’s heard of him but no one can point to him. I’ve been looking up the chimney for mine…I’ll let you know if I find it.

  5. Great post! I think what people mistake for voice is really style, as you and Holly Lisle have pointed out so nicely. I try to distinguish it by referring to voice, your own style and tone of your writing, versus Voice, when your writing distinctive enough that you and only you could have said it that way and everyone knows it.

    I found my Voice when I went through and specifically amped up flat paragraphs and sentences to make them distinctive.

    • I like those distinctions, Jeannie. And I can see how what you did with amping up the “flat” paragraphs fits in with both that distinction and Holly Lisle’s point about Voice being the “bleeding on the page” bit.

      I’m really enjoying these posts. They make me think, and keep me thinking with all the wonderful responses too!

  6. Great post Kaige, I believe I’ve found my voice, but who knows? I’ll have to check out those articles you’ve mentioned.

  7. Ha! I’m a girl with a natural slap-you-across-the-face voice, and I think it’s a blessing and a curse. A curse when someone hates it, a blessing when they love you for it. But I can’t change it, nor do I want to. I think everyone can learn grammar and technical writing, but voice is a tougher thing. But worth the effort.

  8. What Lucy said. Period. *stands and claps* :)

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