In last week’s post on great opening lines, I discussed the importance of having a great voice in the beginning of your novel. But voice isn’t just important in your opening; it’s one of the most important elements of any written work. As an editor, a great voice is one of the most important things I look for in a submission. If a voice doesn’t grab me right away, I’m unlikely to continue reading. Voice is the difference between a reader loving your book or not connecting with it.
Voice can be difficult to describe, because it’s made up of so many things: rhythm, word choice, syntax, pacing, paragraphs. It’s how you convey everything to the reader. It can be formal, casual, stark, flowery, lyrical, simple, etc. Voice is all of the little things that make your work sound like you.
So how do you develop that voice? Here are several tips to consider:
- Don’t try to write like someone else
Often, inexperienced writers will try to make their voice sound like another writer’s, with the result that their voice sounds too much like an imitation. While it’s important to study other writers and learn from them, and even to emulate something about their work you like, be careful not to let them influence your voice too much. Their work should inspire yours, not determine how your voice should sound. Let your voice be yours.
- Don’t edit out your voice
Too often, I’ve seen drafts where the writing felt completely flat. All of the voice had been drained out of the work by writers trying to make them “correct.” Good editing doesn’t mean making everything grammatically correct. Sentence fragments, mistakes, and even bad grammar can be important aspects of an author’s voice. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore the rules, of course, but know why and when to break them.
- Think about region, but be careful with accents
Your character’s background is going to have a big impact on their voice. Someone from Texas will not sound like someone from New Jersey, and someone from England will not sound like an American. Be aware of what your character’s accent might sound like. However, sometimes I see writers take accents too far. They are often more effective in small doses. Every line of a character’s dialogue doesn’t have to show their accent; a little goes a long way.
- Learn to identify what makes your voice unique
This tip is probably the hardest, and it’s going to be different for everyone. The best advice I can give is to study your own work. Look for common elements and things that you like. Look at how you put words together and why you like certain techniques. Find the parts that feel the most like you, and continue to develop them in your work.
Do you struggle with voice? What aspect do you find most difficult? How do you develop your voice? Let me know in the comments!
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