On Creating a Unique Voice and Style For Each of Your Stories

Have you found your voice yet? I’ve read lots of posts and heard lots of things about “finding your voice” and “learning your style,” but for me it’s never really been a problem. People talk about not imitating other authors (though if it’s to find yourself, that’s all right) and striving to create your own unique voice, but I’ve always just written what I wanted to — in other words, I’ve just poured words onto the page, without really worrying about how they sounded. In a way, I formed my own voice and style through that.

I’ve always kind of believed that you don’t need to try and force your voice; that it just comes naturally to you. But what happens when you’re writing a character whose personality is drastically different than yours? I’m not just talking about our POV characters or protagonists (which aren’t necessarily the same), but side characters who may speak up in the dialogue. We may have to alter our style of writing to fit that particular character’s outlook of the world.

Most of the time our protagonist is our POV character — and most of the time, our protagonist shares a few qualities with ourselves. But what happens when we decide to introduce a POV character who is different than us? The opposite gender? Older or younger? A wild personality that, if the character was real, would conflict with our own? (While we might like them on the page, it’s probably a whole different story in real life.)

If you read a lot (which you should), there might be a particular author you love who’s written widely and has a variety of stories and protagonists. Do you notice them changing their style of writing slightly with each new book? Or do all their characters feel the same? Most authors’ underlying voice will always be similar, but with each new story we introduce and the characters that go with it, we should bring along a fresh, new tone with it.

There are some authors that I love, and as I read the many protagonists’ stories, even though they have varied personalities, I don’t really feel any difference between them. Some authors are naturally funny or sarcastic, so they always make their characters such — even if that character may not be so. I myself have a habit of writing in a more modern way and adding too much sarcasm, even though I often want to go for a more fantasy-esque and sophisticated feel.

My point is, with each story you write, your voice might change. Actually, with each story you write, your voice probably will change. Because you’ll grow as a writer with each story you pen. It’s inevitable. I can tell that I’ve grown just from a few months ago. That’s the wonderful thing about writers and writing — there’s no end in sight: we can always keep going, up and up, with no limits to our growth.

Anyway, when writing a story, your voice/style might be something you review when editing. Get the first draft done. Write with your natural voice. It’s probably easiest that way so you can just get it down and done with. After that, you can review your character (are they witty or serious? do they view the world in a lot of detail? what is the first thing they notice about people? do they tend to think carefully through things, or not at all? etc.) and apply those to your story. Create a voice unique to your story.

Often, when stories have multiple POV characters, there’s a complaint that the two characters sound the same. Have you ever run into this problem (in reading a book, and perhaps writing one if you’ve written a multiple POV story)? There’s no easy way to fix this other than to clearly grasp all of your characters’ voices in your head. Know in depth how they’d react to situations. Know when they’d act or hold back. Know how they speak, fast or slow, the catchphrases they use, the quotes they’d quote. Do they let their emotions show easily or not? If you’re basing one of your characters off someone, observe that someone. See how they act. Of course, observing people is good just for any character or situation. It lets you get a good grasp on characters and voice, regardless of what you’re doing it for. When you think about the many people you know, you can easily identify their individual voices and personalities, right? You just need to apply that thinking to your characters. Steal some from the people you know, if need be. I’ve done it a lot. (Might need to be sneaky about it, though, haha. Or you could always get their permission. . . .)

Aside from character voice, the writing style of such things as the descriptions and action might change according to the story as well. If the story is a thriller, you might want shorter sentences, choppier action scenes, full of snappy dialogue and hot emotion. If it’s a romance, you’ll fill your story with fluffy scenes, sweet, visual descriptions, and lots of internal dialogue and drama (most likely). Horror and mystery could use a dark mood, with depressing word choices, and a gloomy tone to set it off; potentially a lot of character development. Fantasy, sci-fi, and dystopian stories might be more based on world-building and character turmoil, with the fate of the world to be decided, and action scenes to keep the plot going. An even balance between beautiful descriptions, high-stakes action, and heart-pounding emotion.

(As a side note, since I always get confused between the difference of tone and mood: tone can be defined as the author’s attitude toward the subject, the feelings you write into your story; and mood is the atmosphere perceived by the reader, the emotions that are brought out by the author. Hope that clears it up. If it still doesn’t make sense, I’m sure you can look it up and see explanations by other people much more talented than me at defining things.)

Do you see how your voice and style are so important, and how it can change depending on your story? If you’ve written multiple stories, how have you dealt with the change of characters, voice, and style (along with tone and mood and such)? Are there any authors that you’ve read who have mastered the art of changing their voice well? What about authors who always sound the same, no matter who their character is?

Thank you for reading! I hope this post has been informative to you in some way. NaNoWriMo is almost upon us. I’m pretty excited because I actually have a project I’m really invested in this time! I just hope I’ll be able to finish my outline before then. Are any of you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Best of luck to you who are! And to those who aren’t, best of luck to you in all your writing endeavors!

~ J. Dominique

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10 thoughts on “On Creating a Unique Voice and Style For Each of Your Stories

  1. I keep debating whether I’ll do NaNo or not. I’m only just getting into revising my work from NaNo last November, though I have temporally put it on hold to write/revise a short story for a contest. I’m trying to decide whether I should start on a new project for November and edit later or if I should keep editing and not do NaNo.

    • Just a point of clarification, typically when someone talks about an author’s voice, their talking about a style of writing, something that defines them. Sort of like how some musicians have their own sound, sometimes so strong you can spot one of their songs right away. Santana is an excellent example of this. I think you make a good point though that it’s important not to tangle your character’s voice with your own. I think in those terms, really fleshing the character out cane help. They become almost real in your head and sometimes, at least with me, will even protest if you have them do or say something out of character.

      • Very true! Great explanation of voice.

        For some people, characters come first, then plot. Others, it’s plot then characters. I’m one of the latter — tending to form my characters around my plot. Write my plot first, then develop my characters. Of course, on editing, this can be a pitfall . . . but as long as you get to know your characters in the end, I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

        Thanks for commenting!

      • No problem. Happy to join in the discussion. You’re right, it doesn’t really matter if you know your characters well enough, and I think that’s really key. People might tolerate an okay story if they really like the characters, but rarely will readers keep going on a good plot if none of the characters are likable, or they just don’t care about them.

    • I understand! I’m a little worried myself because my project is so large that I don’t know if one month is enough to finish planning it.

      You can always be a rebel and use NaNo to motivate yourself to edit. That’s what I did one year, among other things. It can work pretty well for some people!

      • Yeah, I’ve done that some years too, but I want to edit this project at a slower pace. Not the whole thing/almost the whole thing in one month.

        The first draft was basically all plot. I need the slower pace to better think out the world building and character development.

      • Ah, I see. Well, I suppose you could still do that. Just use NaNoWriMo as inspiration and motivation, but set your own goal and pace. Like Camp.

        I only used to have problems finishing stories in my early years of writing. Now, though, I find the best part of NaNo to be the community.

        I’m editing my story as well! Like you, first draft was mostly plot. And now, I’m rewriting the whole thing because it was an awful plot . . . but I’m adding a lot more world-building and character development as well.

      • Projects can take me a long time without NaNo, but I don’t really have a problem not finishing anymore. I do quite enjoy the environment of NaNo events though for first drafts in particular.

        I’m basically rewriting the project I’m revising now too, but not because the plot was bad. It’s just easier to use the first draft as an outline, taking only a few exact lines here and there, than trying to work all the world-building and character development around the existing text. When I use the exact text it comes out sounding awkward.

        I’ve decided that if I can get to the end of part one in my revisions with enough time to outline before the event because part one is a decent stopping point I will participate with a new project for November.

        There is also the fact that this is my first semester of college, I taking a lot of credit hours this semester, and exams start in early December. If I do NaNo November will become extremely hectic, but I like to think I’d still manage at least 25-30K or so.

      • Right! I understand. I’m kinda that way as well. Whatever you decide to do, I’m sure it will work out in the end. Good luck with your revisions. (I’m so slow at mine, I don’t really have a hope of getting a solid plot outline and good grasp of my world and characters by NaNo, but oh well. I’ll dive into it anyway. :D)

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