Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Developing Your Voice: Novel Writers Workshop #TBSU

Seumas Gallacher wrote about voice this morning on his wonderful blog, and his words reminded me of Voice Recognition Day at the Novel Writers Workshop, which I taught for several years through the Auburn University Outreach Program. Here are some thoughts and exercises on Voice.

Your Unique Voice!

Your voice is what makes you unique as a writer. As Albert Zuckerman says in Writing the Blockbuster Novel, “a distinctive voice… must grow out of your own special affinity for the English language, out of the rhythms, tones and nuances you hear and weave into your own mind of people’s speech, out of your own highly personal and somewhat skewed vision of the world.” BTW Zuckerman's book is the best guide I've found for practical, straightforward novel writing advice.

Does developing a voice sound like an impossible task? Don’t despair! When you write authentically, write for yourself, write what you like, your unique voice will emerge automatically. 

Two bothersome sidetracks 

Beware these two distractions that can snare the unwary.

Advice! Don’t take advice too seriously. [That includes mine!] Writers who are pushed and pulled by everyone’s opinion of their work may find it harder to find their own voice.

The market! Don’t try to write strictly for the market. If you’re writing only to please everyone else and not yourself, it's harder to find your authentic unique voice.

This warning doesn’t mean you should ignore the reader or ignore all advice, only that you need to remember what gives you pleasure in your work. 

Can you match the sample with the author?

Just for fun, let’s look at a few writers who have developed a distinctive voice. Can you recognize the author from the brief passage??

Number One
“And if I did, (which, however, I am far from allowing,) I should not feel that I had done wrong. Mr. Martin is a very respectable young man, but I cannot admit him to be Harriet’s equal; and am rather surprised indeed that he should have ventured to address her.”

Number Two
“Ain’t it a life?” Jack says.
Hogan brought in a quart of liquor and two glasses.
“Want some ginger ale?”

Number Three
At once I began to talk to her. I cannot remember precisely what I said. I was so flustered that I didn’t know what I should say to explain my appearance there, and very slowly I sensed danger just as surely as I had sensed it with Cortland years ago. 

Number Four
He walked on a dozen steps, then could hold it no longer. He leaned a forearm against a telephone pole, pressed his mouth to his arm, and laughed as quietly as he could – laughed until tears poured down his cheeks. When the fit (and that was what it really felt like; a kind of hysterical seizure) had passed, Ralph raised his head and looked around with attentive, curious, slightly teary eyes. He saw nothing that anyone else couldn’t see as well, and that was a relief.

Don't Peek!

Have you made your guesses? Okay, now you can look. The passages are from

Emma, by Jane Austen
“Fifty Grand”, a short story by Ernest Hemingway
The Witching Hour, by Anne Rice
Insomnia, by Stephen King

Click on the links to buy the books. Thank you, master authors. You can step down now.

Voice Self-Quiz

As a start to recognizing your own voice, place your writing on the following scales:
[Arggg! The scales looked perfect on the preview! Sorry!]

short sentences        1 2 3 4 5 long sentences

more action       1 2 3 4 5 more description

one telling detail       1 2 3 4 5 accumulation of detail

short words       1 2 3 4 5 long words

rational               1 2 3 4 5 emotional

short paragraphs       1 2 3 4 5 long paragraphs

plot               1 2 3 4 5 character

short time span        1 2 3 4 5 long time span

If ten writers place themselves on these scales, I guarantee the circles will fall in ten different patterns. Your writing is unique! 

For fun, if you want, scale the authors above on the items you can pick out from the brief samples. Interesting, isn't it?!

Conscious Writing

As with everything else about writing, when you make conscious choices from awareness, your writing becomes a clear expression of your unique self. For example, you can choose to break a grammatical rule because it suits your purpose. But first, you need a good grasp of the rules!  

If you've never thought much about voice, think about it now. What is your voice? How do you honor it in your writing? Cultivate your strengths as a writer, and let your voice shine!

Let's continue the conversation in the comments, shall we? What are your thoughts on voice? Did the self-analysis exercise help you recognize the quirks and habits in your writing that make you uniquely YOU? Are there other writing topics you'd like to explore here on the blog? I'm all ears! (*grin* Yes, we'll do a day on clichés!)

Check out these related posts:

Some great blogs, presented here in the grand tradition of The Blog Scratchers' Union! #TBSU


  1. Hee hee! That was fun! Got the Austen! Can't miss her! Wondering what my author voice is like now. Quite exciting! An editor told me I wrote with energy and emotion. Maybe you can give me a hint after you've read my wip! :-) xx

    1. Hi Molly,

      Thanks for commenting! Did you try the quiz? It really works. I agree with the energy and emotion is your writing! Woohoo! Are you going to be able to finish the WIP this week while you're off school? Sending good vibes ~~~


  2. I'm hoping so chick! Making it a priority! :-) It has taken longer than last one because of day job etc getting in way but I'm back in the saddle now...:-) xx