Raise Your Voice

A lot of English teachers and writing professors like to talk about a writer’s voice, but few of them (at least in my experience) give a clear definition. In many ways, a writer’s voice is intuitive. As people have unique patterns of speech, they also have unique patterns in their writing. Stephen King’s writing voice is distinct from George R.R. Martin’s, which is distinct from J.R.R. Tolkien’s, which is distinct from C.S. Lewis’s, and so on. The audience of a well-established author, or the dedicated audience of a not-so-well established author, can recognize a sample of that author’s writing even without their name attached to it.

The difficulty in describing writing voice is that it’s a complex concept. It includes preferred words and phrases, sentence structure, punctuation, perspective; it describes writing that is action driven, dialogue driven, image driven, or description driven. However, talking about the mechanics of writing when trying to describe voice seems a little too sterile to me. Voice is how one infuses their writing with their personality. It’s what makes writing and reading enjoyable.

For example, Stephen King is one of my favorite authors in large part because of his voice. King has a dark and gritty writing voice that I find powerful and compelling. He does not shy away from difficult subjects; he confronts them directly, and he reflects that in his short and direct sentence structures. In fact, that is one of the things he is known for. He is also known for his use of dialect in his characters’ dialogue, which reflects his New England background.

Though King is one of my favorite authors and one I often try to emulate, we still have different voices. We are different people with different backgrounds from different parts of the world, so it only makes sense that we have different voices. Like King, I try not to shy away from difficult topics, though my voice isn’t nearly as dark as his. I also don’t use dialect to the same extent because I find writing in dialect annoying.

Some of my beta readers have described my writing voice as cinematic – much of my work is largely driven by dialogue and action, where vivid description is something I often struggle with. It’s something I’m working on; I still like having my writing voice driven by dialogue and action, but I also want to give the kind of vivid description King pulls off without being overly flowery or long-winded.

There are only two ways I know of to do this: read a lot and write a lot. No matter what form of art you do, be it writing or painting, the best way to improve your craft is to consume that art and to practice doing it. Read things that interest you, and read writers whose style you like. Then write about things that interest you, and try to imitate those writers. Describe the voices of those writers for yourself if you have to; lists are a great way to organize one’s thoughts, so creating a list of writers you like and what you like about them might be a good idea. Creating a personal style guide in order to keep your writing consistent might also help. Everyone has a unique writing voice, it just takes time to refine it.

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