Finding your writer’s voice #amwriting #writing #writerslife

“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.

Books that end where they begin #amreading #amwriting

I am sure most of us have read one of these stories, they start with a brief scene, and then the story jump’s back in time. Books that end where they begin can be a little hit and miss in my opinion. It’s all down to the execution, along with a smidgen of personal taste.

One’s that don’t work.

For me, the ones that leave me with a slightly disgruntled feeling are the cliff-hanger at the start. Yes, I know all the theories about cliff-hangers forcing your readers to just keep turning the page, but to be honest they just irritate me. Five pages in and it’s just getting exciting, and then it jumps back years. You keep turning the pages, hoping that it is going to get back to the action, but it doesn’t for – ever – and I am afraid I just want to throw the damn book out.

You keep doggedly reading, surely it has to get back to that little teaser sometime soon?

You hit mid-point.

You hit three-quarters!

Do I keep reading, well, sometimes, if the rest of it is interesting enough, but it generally leaves me – disatisfied.

One’s that do work

I am going to use one of my all time favourites for an example Use of Weapons – Ian M Banks

The book begins with a scene. It’s not a cliff hanger, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It leaves you intrigued…

Yes, the difference is subtle, and the scene at the start is fairly short. You know it’s the main character, but as you read the story, that early scene almost feels like a different person, and you are – intrigued – as to what made this change.

It has one of the most awesome endings of any book I have read ever. Yes, that is a pretty bold statement. I re-read the last 10 or so pages about 5 times because I kept thinking (or wishing) I had read it wrong! Now that’s a good book, one that picks you up and takes you somewhere that you really don’t want to go.

At the end it plays out the original scene, and like any true revelation, it all makes perfect sense.

Conclusion

Reading is about as personal as it can get, and what works for one person may not work for someone else, but I do like a good circular story, so long as they get the subtle blend right.

When you are a writer you explore everything #amwriting

I think as a writer, you have a naturally curious mind about all things, but in particular people. And when I say people, it is all people, both the real ones, and the fictitious ones we meet within the pages of a book or on the screen.

Before I became a writer, I would read the book on only one level. Aware of the story and the flow, and the characters and their adventure.

When I first began writing, I found myself paying greater attention to word choice and style. Later, it was some of the technical aspects of sentence structure that captured my attention. I explored what I liked, or what I felt worked particularly well, and then I would ask myself why this was so. I would often pause reading so I could consider a phrase rather than simply enjoying it and skipping straight past as a reader might.

Then I found yet another level in the character development, and the way that their journey plays out. I have always loved character arcs, and have always enjoyed the change a good arc brings in a holistic sense. Recently though, I have found myself studying the nuances of the character in a much greater detail. The common word choice certain characters have, or perhaps the way they rub their brow when they hear interesting news. A character who plays their cards close to their chest is most interesting when they  finally reveal a personal detail— and a sharer is most interesting when they choose not the share. These micro-levels of the arc are just as important. I review each aspect of their personality under a microscope, testing it, seeing what I like about it, or even what I don’t. I try to unravel all the reasons behind their actions, and again, find myself testing the arc—does each piece fit in with the greater whole? What works? Why does it work? And how can I use this knowledge myself.

Not all writers are equal, and not all draw us into the story as deeply. There are times, when despite my best efforts to read a book on every level, I lose myself and I am simply a reader. These are the best books, and the ones I return to so I can study them again with a writers eye.

There are, of course, many more layers to a story and to writing, some that I am aware of, and others that I am not. Our ignorance reveals itself during those times when you just feel joy in reading a book, yet the formula or ingredient that makes it so enjoyable eludes you. These moments have a magical quality, and you know there is some hidden aspect of the craft at work. You wish desperately to know what it is.

This ever evolving lens through which we view writing is what makes it so interesting, and I hope that I never stop learning.