The trend for beginner writers is to mimic their favorite authors. It’s an easy thing to do, and a good way to learn, but it’s not something you should be selling to the public. Your voice is powerful and unique, and that’s what we want to see.
It’s something that takes writers time and practice to develop, and you may also find that it takes time to discover distinct voice within each novel that you write. The problem I tend to have with voice and style is that I begin writing a book with the plot in mind and work through the first half, but it isn’t until after that I really hit my stride and the writing flows easier. When I go back to read my first draft I realize that my voice doesn’t shine until mid-way through the novel. So what in the world am I supposed to do with the first half of the book?
Honestly, it’s okay if the style changes as you write your novel. In fact, it probably will. It takes time for voice to settle and sometimes the book simply doesn’t show its true colors until you’ve really gotten lost in the mire. With my latest novel, what was usually my saggy, horrible middle was actually the start of a really good chunk of writing filled with my personal voice and style.
Remember, the first draft you write will probably feel like drivel. That’s okay. Your first draft is when you tell yourself the story (don’t forget you’re literally making this up, so you can’t be expected to know everything right away), and fixing things like this is what self-editing is for. Voice takes time to flesh out, so don’t be afraid to let it, to play with it as you write, to explore. You can always, always go back and fix it. Above all, don’t let wanting to get it perfect straight away stop you from writing… you can’t edit a blank page.
Having said that, the closer you can get to sussing out your voice before beginning the novel, the less painful it is later. There are some tricks and techniques you can use to help with this, and in the Six Month Novel program (a novel writing course I co-run with Urban Writers’ Retreat) we like to do this by drawing out the voice of the narrator.
Sometimes the narrator is your protagonist, sometimes they aren’t, but even with a third-person narrator it’s important that the voice telling the story might not be you. It might be something like your voice but funnier or wiser, or it might have an entirely different style or perspective on life to the everyday version of you. It helps to think of the narrator as a separate character. Deciding exactly whose voice you’re talking in and exploring will help to create the style, and we love using diary entries, letters, and emails to figure that out. You need to understand how your main characters think and feel, and writing your way into each point of view is a great way to figure out how they actually sound.
It’s also very important that after you’ve written those snippets you go back and read them out loud. By doing this you’ll get a feel for the cadence of the voice (or voices), for the personality behind the words. Try out a few different voices, different characters, or narrative points of view and see how each feels when read aloud. You can even add body language (alone in your room, with no one watching, in secret) and use that to decide if what you’ve written is how you want your characters portrayed. If it’s not quite right, try writing another diary entry. Or even write a conversation between yourself and the character—interview them.
Now, if you managed to do what I did and wrote an entire novel where the voice doesn’t peek through until the middle, this can be remedied. It might mean throwing away a lot of your first half, but you’ll probably find that as long as the heart and theme are there you just need to undertake the still-painful but not nearly as bad task of rewriting some scenes. Perhaps it’s just a case of changing some of the wording or phrasing, or perhaps you’ll want to use each scene as a template and rewrite on a blank page. It can feel daunting, so take things one step at a time.
- Weed out all the places where you need to make updates.
- Note them down, then take a break.
- Before you begin writing again, be certain of what your style is (use some of the techniques above).
- Only once you’re sure of that and have the voice reverberating in your head should you begin rewriting, one scene at a time.
I’d love to have some more ideas to add to the arsenal.
Have you found a great way to pinpoint your voice and style before or during writing your novel?
She is one half of the procrastination-busting duo at Six Month Novel, where we use a combination of accountability, cheer-leading, glitter, and cake to help you go from idea to complete first draft in six months.
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HOW TO FIND YOUR VOICE AND WRITE YOUR WAY IN by @amiemccracken http://goo.gl/IlfOqw
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