Own Your Voice by @EdenBaylee
Some years ago, another writer, whom I respected said to me, “You have a distinct voice.” She had read a couple of my books, and at the time, I was writing erotic fiction. Her words caught me off guard.
“Oh?” I felt somewhat ambivalent toward her statement. “I guess my writing’s become predictable.”
“I don’t mean that,” she said. “I mean you have a certain way of telling a story.”
She was offering a compliment, but in that moment, I couldn’t fully appreciate what she was saying. I took it to mean she had read enough of my stories to notice a recurring pattern, a particular style of writing. I filed away her words in my brain, confident I’d eventually understand them more clearly.
To have one’s own style isn’t a bad thing, right?
I’ve been reading erotic fiction for years, so it’s not a stretch to think I’ve adopted stylistic details from authors I’ve admired. At age eleven, I read Pauline Réage’s Story of O. I didn’t understand all of it, but it made a serious impression on me. In hindsight, it's a book I shouldn't have read at that age, but what’s done is done—psyche be damned! I also read widely—from mystery to suspense to horror to non-fiction. I’m sure there have been writers and stories that have nudged me in ways I can’t even imagine. One of my favourite writers is Charles Bukowski, mainly because he was a crotchety, old bastard but a brilliant writer of prose and poetry. I’ve read almost everything he’s written, at least once. Post Office is an excellent book.
To say my style is a fusion of the authors I’ve read may make sense, but … style and voice are not the same thing.
So what is authorial voice?
"Voice is … something you can bring out in yourself. The trick is to not concentrate on it."
~ Renni Browne and Dave King, from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
Sounds cryptic, doesn't it? But it’s true. Voice is something you discover and is one of the last writing elements to fall into place.
Voice is the distinct personality or point of view of a piece of writing. It encompasses vocabulary, tone, rhythm, word choice, phrasing, and how paragraphs flow together. A firm command of the language makes the work recognizable and distinguishable from the rest of the pack. In music, it’d be the difference between a guitar solo by Mark Knopfler vs. that wanker, Neil Young.
Writers with the most distinctive voices did not develop them overnight. If you’ve read David Sedaris, Ernest Hemingway, or a Toni Morrison novel, you can guess the author early on because of their powerful, unique voice. William Faulkner is wordy, whereas Cormac McCarthy writes sparingly. And though these original voices can be imitated, it’s nearly impossible to duplicate them.
Lately, I’ve become addicted to the writing of blogger Paulie at The Life In My Years. He’s an American writer, who according to his bio, writes about: travel, history, literature, sport, photography, cooking and life in general. We connected via his political blogs initially. His posts can be long, and aside from news websites, I don’t read lengthy non-fiction blogs.
Paulie’s site is the exception.
His intelligent, humorous, sometimes irreverent, and deeply emotional voice dominates his blogs. There’s a consistency, a recognizability to the way he writes, and I’ve only been reading him since December 2020. I’m stalking his site because he’s one of those writers I’d read no matter the subject. That’s a sure sign of good writing, and I’d recommend you give him a follow.
Two things I strive for in cultivating my voice are: control and authenticity.
With a strong voice, the writer is in control. The words carry the reader through the story in a confident manner; the prose is buoyant. The story flows effortlessly, and the only reason a reader might return to a passage is to re-experience how it touched them the first time.
Control is evident in fluid sentences, beautiful turns of phrase, and original expressions.
Authenticity speaks more to the personality of the writer. It’s the expression of humour, cynicism, anger, pain, hope all distilled into one voice. It’s being unafraid to expose oneself, to deliver a compelling and masterful narrative without apology.
A writer with a capable, unique voice can help readers lose themselves in a story, and isn’t that what good writing is all about?
Feel free to share about your writer's voice or anything else for that matter!