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Voice. Authors have to cultivate it—it’s one of the major things that builds reader loyalty, especially in a saturated market. But what exactly do people mean when they talk about an author’s voice, usually in statements like these:
“Make sure your editor doesn’t interfere with your voice.”
“It took me years to find / cultivate my author’s voice.”
“Don’t edit the voice (life) out of your story.”
It’s pretty simple really. Let’s think about it in terms of music. Have you ever flipped through radio channels and heard a song that was completely new to you, but you instantly knew who was singing? There are some artists that could never be mistaken for anyone else—Dolly Parton, Keith Urban, Tom Petty (RIP), Adam Levine, the list goes on. And then there are others that even if you love them, you might easily mistake one of their songs as being by someone else. Their voice just isn’t that unique.
With writing, voice is a bit more complicated—it’s a whole host of things combined. It’s the way you put sentences together, your settings, your dialogue, your tone. Some of my favorite authors can make me feel like I’m actually visiting the places where they set their stories. Other writers’ prose almost has a lyrical quality to it. Some stories make me wish I were hanging out with the characters. Let your sense of humor come out, have your characters engage in snappy banter. All these things contribute to your voice.
Your writing voice takes time to develop, but trust me, you’ll get there. In the meantime, here are three things (aside from reading widely and writing) that you can do to let yourself shine:
- Write like you’re talking to your best friend. Don’t be too formal. You’re not writing an academic paper. That’s not to say don’t worry about spelling and punctuation and such, but relax. You’re not pitching an idea to your boss or a client.
- Be okay with the fact that not everyone will like your story or your writing style. Remember that old adage, you can’t please all the people all the time? It’s true. Your stories are not going to appeal to everyone—they just aren’t. And if you try to write so that nobody can point out something they don’t like, you’re going to eliminate the things that other people will love. Just like with social interactions, you want to get along with everyone, but not everyone is going to be your friend. And that’s okay.
- Read your work out loud. Especially dialogue. Reading your work out loud is one of the quickest ways to find out if something reads awkwardly or just doesn’t sound like you. I’m often surprised at how different a passage sounds when I actually hear it as opposed to just seeing it on the page. This is a tried-and-true technique for aligning your written voice with how you would actually tell a story to a friend.
Notice how in the tips above, the word friend keeps coming up? That’s because your fans are kind of your friends. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but they develop a relationship with you through your writing. They like you. They want to hang out with you. Developing that relationship is what makes readers put you on autobuy, read your backlist, sign up for your newsletter, and tell their friends about you. And that’s a wonderful thing.