“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”
—Allen Ginsberg, WD
A writer’s voice can be an elusive thing. It is hard to know you have found it unless you are an experienced writer with enough books under your belt.
Often, you instinctively know when you are allowing your fears to get in the way of what you really want to say, but it can be difficult to do something about it. Whether it is word choice, style choice, character choice, or some other choice you are smothering, it can be difficult to quash your inner critic and just let the inner writer out.
What is the definition of a writer’s voice?
The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of their common usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works) Source Wiki.
One of the things I grapple with is my use of unorthodox words. There were a couple of places in my book where my editor pointed out ‘better’ words, but I decided not to use them. Of course, there were plenty of other places that I did take her advice. I guess there are certain words that interest me, and although there may be a simpler word I prefer the alternative ones.
I talk in the same way, it’s part of me, and I think there is nothing wrong with leaving a little me in place.
I’m glad I did, and for no reason other than it allows personality into my book.
What is the right amount of voice?
Many bestselling writers use very little ‘voice’ to make their books as appealing as possible. There is no doubt that this tactic works and to elaborate I will use an example. I am one of those odd people who tends to read book reviews after I finish a book, and I was reading a review of a book that I had thoroughly enjoyed, and was surprised by a large number of negative reviews. All the writer’s other works had received glowing 4/ 5 star reviews, but this particular book (which I personally felt was the best in the series) had received a significant number of 1 star reviews.
Why was everyone upset? Well, she had done something a little out of the ordinary in this one. Personally I felt it gave the book an edge that was lacking in the others. For me, this book had something that pulled it out of the ‘mundane’ pack. I read a lot of books and I have been reading for many years, and I have found over time that I actively seek and enjoy uniqueness in a book or writer.
Many of the readers wanted the nice flat line…personally I enjoyed the blip. Certainly not everyone was upset by the book, and it did get a lot of five star reviews too, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the writer’s decision to ‘stick to the safe script’ for future work was a result of these negative reviews.
I hope not.
Can you have too much voice?
There are also writers who have a very unique and extreme voice for a variety of reasons. I once decided, in my infinite wisdom, to read the complete works of Jane Austin while working through classic works. Jane Austin definitely has a voice! And the thing about reading a writer with a strong voice is that it rubs off, and you find yourself writing like…Jane Austin! Given that I mostly write scifi or fantasy, even when I am just ‘play’ writing, it was a rather bizarre mix! And funny! But definitely not a good style!
It is good to recognise the importance of what we read, and to be aware of how it ultimately impacts what becomes our voice. There’s nothing wrong with reading Jane Austin, but perhaps with hindsight six books back-to-back was a bit of a style overdose. 🙂
Whether you are an advocate of the neutral voice, or prefer reading books that have a distinctive voice, we all have one ourselves, and we can choose whether to let it out.