Okay, I’ll be honest. I have never had an issue finding my voice. I’m one of those annoying people who took to writing naturally. I didn’t even know that not having one was a thing. As soon as I learned how to spell, off I went. However, other people have a difficult time, so this entry will discuss how to find your writer voice and how to enhance it to an author voice.
Step 1: Putting Pen to Paper
One of the things that I hear often is “I have all of these ideas, but I can never put my thoughts into words”. The easiest fix that I can think of is starting a journal or a blog. It can be about anything. If you’re really new to writing, start out talking about your day. It doesn’t have to be important or eventful. It can be about something that you saw or noticed. It can be about what you ate that day. You can talk about the color and consistency of your excrement for all anyone cares (although that might be a little off-putting). The important thing is to put thoughts into words and onto paper/screen.
My first blog entry back in 2001 was about my Phys. Ed. class. We were playing tennis, and due to my complete lack of coordination, I smacked myself in the thumb with my racket. It was short and stupid, but it was practice. The more that you do it, the easier that the words will just start to flow. Believe it or not, this helped me a lot on tests too. Throughout high school, I was always the first to finish my tests, not because I knew all the answers, but I was able to put pen to paper and write.
Step 2: Style: Mastering the Rules of Grammar Before You Break Them
So, once you’ve figured out how to put your thoughts onto paper, it’s time to organize them. This will include discovering the grammar rules. Everyone learns basic grammar in school. They call it “grammar school” for a reason. Mastering the art of grammar is very important. Without proper sentence structure, spelling, and punctuation, the meaning of the words can become obscured.
Every grammar nerd knows the phrase, “let’s eat, Grandma”. With the comma, it says we’re speaking to Grandma and saying, “let’s eat”. Without the comma, it says we’re cannibals, and we’re going to eat Grandma.
Master grammar. It is your friend. And what do we do to our friends? Good! We mug them into the dead of night and make them our bitch.
“What? But you said we needed to master grammar.” And you do! You need to know which rules you’re breaking, so you can do it consistently and with purpose. That is the difference between not knowing the rules (and saying the rules are unimportant) and having “style”: purpose.
Every author breaks the rules a little differently. It will depend on how you want your prose to sound. For me, in narration, I love my long sentences. I love the way they flow like water. I’m a wordy girl, and I love to ask my prose to do these elegant, but not quite painful, stretches like a ballerina. That way, when I do something short or a sentence fragment, the reader knows it is for emphasis. Like this. Just like this. It’s visually jarring, and I just like to do it.
So, the following are going to be a couple of examples how grammar and punctuation can help aid in style:
* I’m not saying that any of them is right, wrong, or even interesting, but they demonstrate various styles, which is a good thing.
* I’m not saying that any of them is right. Or wrong. Or even interesting. But they demonstrate various styles, which is a good thing.
* I’m not saying that… any of them is “right”, “wrong”, or even “interesting”, but… they demonstrate various styles, which… is a good thing.
* I’m not saying that any of them is right, wrong, or even interesting; they demonstrate various styles, which is a good thing.
* I’m not saying that any of them is: right, wrong, or even interesting. But they demonstrate various styles. Which is a good thing.
* And I’m not saying that any of them is right, wrong, or– even interesting. But! They demonstrate various styles. And that’s a good thing!
Heh, and even all these examples are subject, in part, to my own style of writing. There are SO many ways to express the same idea. All you have to do is find which one works best for you.
(Also, you may be interested in reading Lynne Truss’ book Eats, Shoots & Leaves. It’s a real hoot and has a section on the differences between UK and US grammar.)
Step 3: Writing With Authority
The next step in finding your voice, or the voice of your narrator (if writing in third person), is writing with authority. See how the word “author” is in the word “authority”? You must be confident in your writing. You must have absolute control over the story. As it is, the author controls what the reader sees, hears, and knows about the characters or any given situation. In order for the reader to be engaged in a novel, the reader has to trust you. It’s the same with parenting, coaching, or leading. You must be strong, determined, and on track in order for anyone to take you seriously. If your novel goes off on random tangents, you’ll lose your reader.
So, how do you write with authority?
1) Master grammar and style. “But you already said that.” Yes, that’s how important it is. Pretty much everyone who picks up your novel is going to have a basic understanding of grammar. They’ve been conditioned the same way that you have. They’ll be able to tell if you just drop a comma in the middle of a sentence all willy-nilly-like. As I said, it’s about trust. The reader trusts you to know what you’re doing. Being inconsistent with your grammar rules is going to hurt your credibility as an author. It doesn’t matter if you tell the greatest story of all time. If your story is riddled with errors, the reader is going to be like, “Who is this clown? And why doesn’t he know ‘”I” before “E” except after “C”‘?” Ugh, and I think I hurt myself a little with all those quotations.
2) Write in active voice. (Or rather know when to write in active voice and when to write in passive voice.) Most of the time, active voice is going to be your go-to. There’s a distinct difference between the sentences, “The bucket was kicked down the hill by Jane” and “Jane kicked the bucket down the hill”.
The first is passive. It beats around the bush. The first thing that you see is the bucket, the object. Second, you see the kick or a foot, the verb. Then, there’s the hill, the preposition, and finally, the last thing you see is Jane, the subject. The reader had to go through the entire sentence to figure out what was going on. The reader is left in the dark until he or she reaches the very last word. That’s a lot of work for a reader. And readers are lazy. The reader is thinking, “Why should I have to do this work? The author should be doing the work for me.” This shows the reader you’re not in control of this story.
The second sentence is active. The reader is given a distinct visual. You see Jane, the subject. Even before she’s doing anything, if Jane has been described before, the reader can see her. Then, every subsequent phrase afterward enhances what the reader already sees. What did she do? She kicked the bucket. Where did she do this? She kicked it down the hill. It’s no work at all. This is what readers want from you.
3) Don’t be vague. I’m not saying describe everything down to every little detail although I’m not faulting authors who do have a lot of description, but not adding in description is author suicide. Being vague is another way of showing the reader that you’re not in control of this story, because you’re making them do work.
For example, take the sentence, “A car drives up to the curb, and a woman gets in.” The writer of this sentence isn’t in control of the story. It feels so empty. What kind of car is it? What shape is it in? What does the woman look like? How does she get in the car? These lost details can change everything.
It can mean this…
“A gleaming Ferrari the color of maraschino cherries screams around the corner and races to the curb. A buxom, statuesque blonde in a white mink stole, a tight pencil skirt that hugged her curves, six inch black stilettos, and sleek $200 sunglasses sighs as the valet opens the car door, and she deftly slides into the leather seat.”
“Before the old grey rust bucket turns the corner and drives up to the curb, the sound of the bass from the radio can be heard over the tortured squeal of its broken fan belts. A skinny teen with in a black tank, distressed jeans, untied combat boots, and giant headphones bobs her short cropped electric purple head to the sound as she opens the door and slams her ass into scratchy sun-bleached seat.”
These details can make or break any piece of creative writing. So, a good authoritative author doesn’t let his/her reader do work or lead.
Finally, after all these steps, you should have an author voice. If not, just practice your ass off, and you’ll be fine.