How to Develop Your Writing Voice

"Look, talent comes everywhere, but having something to say and a way to say it so that people listen to it, that's a whole other bag. And unless you get out and you try to do it, you'll never know. That's just the truth."

Jackson Maine, A Star is Born

A writer’s voice: hard to pin down, impossible to do without.

One of the easiest ways to describe "voice" as a concept is this: if you were given a stack of, say, fifteen books that you hadn’t read before, by five different authors, and the titles and authors’ names were invisible, you could likely still sort them by author.

Why? Because one of the hallmarks of a skilled author is a distinctive voice. It’s there in the way they form sentences, in the vocabulary they use, in the tone of the story, in the themes they depict and the subject matter they choose.

What seems to be a foregone conclusion is that you can’t force the development of voice. There is no distinct finish line in the distance that you can see coming closer. It’s an evolution that occurs over time, one that can be equal parts frustrating and exciting.

If you’ve been writing for a while, you can usually see this evolution in practice by looking at one of your earliest pieces and one of the ones you’re working on currently. Even if you can’t quite figure out what the difference is, can you feel a shift? There might be more of an ease to your writing, or you may have developed a skill for evocative metaphors, or you might see more of your sense of humour seeping into the words of the narrator. That is an evolution of voice.

An Experiment in Voice

One of the best ways to develop your writing voice (without overthinking it!) is to undertake an experiment, one that's all the more scrumptious because it involves revisiting some of your favourite authors.

You will need:

  • a few books each from three different authors
  • something to write with, whether it's longhand or electronic
  • a scene you've already written

Have those handy? Let's carry on, then!

Step #1

Read one (just one!) chapter from each book, taking care to read all the chapters from one author before moving to a different author.

Step #2

Without trying to discern exactly what it is, can you feel the difference from author to author? Think about this for a few minutes before moving on to the next step.

Step #3

Choose a chapter from each author and look at them more closely. Jot down any differences you notice. One might have longer stretches of scintillating dialogue, while another has pages of evocative descriptions. One might have more white space on the page, another more densely-packed paragraphs. One might convey theme in a subtle, barely there manner, while another might put it out there in the very first line.

Have a look at the other books and see if those differences carry through. Chances are you’ll start to see common threads between an author’s works. That’s a clear glimpse at their voice.

Step #4

Pull out a scene of your own. It doesn’t have to be long, just a few pages. Now, making sure to keep the original scene somewhere, rewrite it in the voice of one of the other authors. Don’t worry if this feels a wee bit awkward: start with just one thing (longer, more detailed descriptions, for example) and go from there, going line by line through your scene until you’ve reached the end. Try it again with another author’s voice, and so on until you’ve reached the end.

Step #5

Read back over the “new” scenes you’ve written. Better yet, read them out loud. How does the tone of the scene change? How does the pacing vary? Are there any you’re particularly drawn to?

This isn’t an invitation to imitate another author’s voice permanently, of course. Besides that nasty little plagiarism problem, the world needs the gift of your unique voice!

If a certain writing technique or style made creative sparks fly, however, consider incorporating it into your writing more often. Who knows? Once you’ve experimented with it and made it your own, it might be one of the most memorable aspects of your own voice.

If you give this experiment a try, feel free to share in the comments which authors you used and any of the discoveries you made. I'd love to cheer you on in this latest step of your writing journey!

Developing your writing voice takes time, diligence, nurturing, and passion, and I know you can do it! What's more, today is an amazing day - the best of days! - to embark on this journey, one word at a time. The more you write, the more you'll come to know and appreciate your own voice, and that's one of the greatest creative gifts you can bring into the world.

Let's get writing, shall we? ;)

This post first appeared in Letters from the Acorn Den and appears here in expanded form. Not everything makes its way from the Acorn Den to the blog, so if you'd like to hear more of this advice in the future, you can find your way to the door right here!

Other Resources for Developing Your Writing Voice

Does the idea of developing your voice still feel a little too tricksy to grasp? I've rounded up some excellent articles to give you another perspective. Give them a read-through, starting with the excerpts from each, and see what you think!

Learn About Author's Voice in Fiction Writing
The Balance Careers

"The term "voice" in fiction writing has two very different meanings: [...] the author's style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author's attitude, personality, and character; or [...] the characteristic speech and thought patterns of the narrator of a work of fiction."

Voice in Writing: Developing a Unique Writing Voice
Writer's Digest

"You can facilitate voice by giving yourself the freedom to say things in your own unique way. You do not talk exactly like anyone else, right? Why should you write like everyone else?"

Defining Your Unique Writing Style and Voice

"Stories can be both catharsis and creative playground (and even a bit of both). As you write, don’t be afraid to suffuse your work with elements of the life you’ve lived or to use fiction as an escape from any tough hand that life has dealt. Either choice molds your personal voice and style.

On a similar note, fill your stories with things you love: ice skating, obscure 80’s references, an ode to 18th-century couture clothing — whatever brings you joy."

3 Vs of Fiction: Voice
Fiction Notes

"You’re convinced, you need a stronger voice. Where do you start? It’s a dual pathway, one of learning conventions and then breaking them. Yes, you need to know conventional grammar rules. You need to be able to write a compound, complex sentence of 100+ words and correctly punctuate it. But then, you need to find the more expressive ways of saying that same thing."

10 Questions to Find Your Unique Writing Voice
The Write Practice

"A writer who sees the world the same as everyone else has either lost their voice or never found it in the first place."

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