Saturday, August 8, 2020

Find Your Own Voice



Last week, I wrote a post here sharing my take on the “Ingredients of a Mystery Novel”:  Characters, Dialog, POV, Plot, Setting, and Tension–six ingredients common to the genre. 


In light of the many comments I received for that post, and in keeping with the adage, “no kind word shall go unpunished,” I’ve decided to follow up on that (freely borrowing again from the brilliance of others) with how to make those ingredients work for you in creating your unique masterpiece. 


Think of it as finding a chef to create signature dishes from universal ingredients, or an artist painting a classic from common paints.  We writers do it with voice.


I guess the obvious place to start is with what I mean by “voice.”  The answer is really quite simple to state, for it’s what distinguishes each of us from everyone else on the planet. It’s shaped by your generation, your media and music, your life experiences, your very being.  That doesn’t mean you can’t be a man writing as a woman or a woman as a man, just be what you see that person as being, not what you think someone else would expect that person to be.


Let us never forget that writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar, and that what you are—as opposed to what you know—ultimately will determine your style.  Put differently, your voice takes its final shape more from the attitudes of mind than from principles of composition.


I can’t tell you how to find your soul, but finding your voice is about as close as you’ll ever come to doing just that. That’s why you want a style that suits you as an expression of yourself, one that is satisfying to you, not simply some trend you think your reader might like.  Chasing trends will doom you by drawing you away from your unique center as a writer, even though it might make you a good living.


Having peppered you with generalities, I do have a few suggestions on how you might go about finding your own voice, learning more about it, and even training it.


—Study the work of authors you think you write like, or people say you do. Read their work, learn how they come to do what they do, and by osmosis you’ll find yourself gaining hints. It’s a way to train your voice. But it must be a voice you’re comfortable with.  And for those of you who have no idea whom you may write like, I suggest taking a gander through a book like Making Story which reveals the very different styles of twenty mystery writers and may give you a hint of your own, as it has for many of my students (Yes, I’m one of the authors, but the royalties play no part in the recommendation—and no student ever picked my style as a favorite).


—Seek out the voice of great poets and playwrights; great poetry for introducing rhythm to your prose, great plays to see how dialog and movement carry the story along.


—Abandon what you thought was the way you should write and go with how you feel you should write. Say what must be said and damn the torpedoes.  Unless libelous.


With all that said, the bottom line inevitably returns to you finding your own way to being comfortable with yourself and natural in your voice. Do not try to be someone else, but concentrate instead on making your natural voice sharper, clearer, more understandable.


Finding your own voice takes time, a long time, for it comes with confidence acquired after a lot of reading, experimenting, criticism, and keeping the faith. But if you persist, at some point comes that WOW moment when your entire being shouts out, “I’ve got it!”


I know, because it happened to me.




  1. Excellent piece. . .just what the Word Doctor ordered today. Keep em coming!

    1. Thanks, Jackie & Joel. Not sure I want to risk it all on a trifecta. :)