Developing a Unique Writing Voice

This week on Hide and Create Joshua Essoe, Jaye Wells, Moses Siregar, and Jordan Ellinger talk about creating your voice.

It’s interesting to me how a writer can have a strong voice and be a very good storyteller, but fall down when it comes to the line-by-line writing. Everyone has gifts and genius, and some can do things that others just can’t duplicate no matter how much they learn or practice. But I don’t think that should bother you, because you have your strengths as well. Everybody does. Don’t discount them. Figure out what they are, and take advantage of them. If you kick ass at writing battle scenes, then you should have battle scenes in your book. If you write amazing dialogue, then you should have a lot of dialogue in your book. If you’re genius at pacing, then you take advantage of that and make sure that your readers a glued to your pages for the whole ride. If you’re really good at dissecting ideas and creating compelling, thoughtful arguments, then emphasize your themes.

And if you get an MS back from me or another editor, and it’s absolutely filled with red ink, that doesn’t mean you suck and you shouldn’t write. If I include in my critique that I really liked the story and think it has huge promise, I’m not lying, and all that red ink isn’t the proof of that. What that means is that you have an awesome voice, you’re a good storyteller and you need to work on your technical skills.

5 thoughts on “Developing a Unique Writing Voice

  1. Interesting and informative episode. I liked the distinction you made between tone and voice.

    That said I’m still mulling over some of the particulars of your examples concerning voice, namely the go to/recurring images/motifs an author uses to tell his stories. I understand and agree to a point how such things become part of the authorial brand. For example, one recurring image I’ve noticed in Stephen King’s stories is many of them tie the terror to a child or someone/something which is connected with childhood. The innocent are the instigators or targets of the evil: Carrie, Christine, It, Pet Cemetery, Cujo, Firestarter, The Shining (kids as monsters or the targets of monsters). Orson Scott Card’s books are populated with morally conflicted child prodigies… as often as not set within various veiled retellings of key LDS pioneer stories. Amy Tan’s writings revolve around strained mother-daughter issues. Hawthorn has a cast that almost always contains: the innocent, the aesthete, the iron pilgrim, the poisoned woman, the devil, the brawny everyman. Sometimes they are individual, sometimes combined…but each figure is an element in his storytelling vocabulary. They are his cast of metaphors, one might say, with which he ponders the human condition. Consider Shakespeare, how many bloody fifth acts did he actually have to write if that sort of dramatic “liquidity” did not somehow express something characteristic of his own soul? And I’ve seen the same thing in my own writing recurring characters and motifs that emerge again and again in one form or another no matter what sort of story I’m telling. And if I’ve listened correctly you guys see something similar in your own writing.

    This all reminds me of what I once heard a preacher say with respect to other preachers that no matter who they were, each one may give many sermons in his life but each would have only one message. I suspect this is true for authors at well. It’s like we come with our own puppet stage, puppets, and props. We may tell a thousand different stories, but they are always presented through the medium of our particular ensemble. But is this ensemble the voice of the author or “speaker system” through which the voice is heard?

    Are these things elements of authorial voice or something else that marks voice…which I’ve long understood, perhaps incompletely, as the distinctives of subject, language, tonality, cadence, and outlook, etc. that are communicated in the telling of any given story…the things that distinguish the voice of Dickens from Poe or Melville. I’ll never confuse Scrooge with Hop-Frog…but I imagine Scrooge in the hands of Poe would come off very differently as would Hop-Frog in the hands of Dickens. To my thinking the way these characters would be transformed speaks more to the voice of the author than a particular motif set…as much as that motif set arises from the same place as and so naturally compliments authorial voice…or so I would assume.

    Am I straining at gnats and shaving fleas?

  2. Author voice is one of the reasons I hate when publishers make authors use pen names when they write in different genres. If I love your voice, I will follow you from Fantasy to Science Fiction (even though I don’t read it) to wombat murder mysteries. But only if I can find you.

  3. I understand wanting to have the same name across divergent genres for the reasons you state. That said, I think for privacy’s sake, a pen name can be useful. If by chance I do develop fans, I don’t want them on my personal Facebook page unless I grew up with them or we share at least one great great grandparent.

  4. I really like Jaye’s final thoughts on this one, about imagining yourself telling your story to someone you trust completely, such as a close friend. It really reminded me of something that Stephen King said in his book On Writing. He said that everyone has and needs to find their Ideal Reader. For him, that is his wife, Tabitha. Everything he writes, he writes with her in mind, thinking about how she’s going to react to it and whether or not he thinks that she will like it. So I think Stephen King developed his voice by writing to Tabitha, who is the most important person in his life.

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