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


Last-Minute NaNo(or: Story)Prep

Doing some last minute prep for NaNoWriMo? Need to get a handle on your story — quick? Don’t worry. You can still do it.

Here’re a few ways how:

1. Don’t rush yourself.
This is one of the most important steps. Writing is a slow process — to rush through it won’t give you a satisfactory story. You’ll just go back and have to spend more time editing. Haste makes waste, they say.

2. Have a clear idea of your story in your head.
Not just an idea, but a plotline. Try summing your story up in one word. For example, the first book of my series would be: “Selyn gets kidnapped by a boy no older than he, and goes to search for the elusive Infinity Circle.” It’s not pretty-sounding, but it’s clear. Know where you start, where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there.

3. Know your protagonist.
You’re going to be sticking with them for the whole book, so you better know them. You don’t have to know every single detail of their life (that will come later as you write), but at least know their basic personality, looks, age, relationships, etc.

4. Place yourself in your setting.
You might not know exactly what you’re setting is yet, but you should have an idea. Just spend some time imagining yourself in your setting. The details will come to you.

5. Slow down.
Like “Don’t rush yourself,” you also need to slow down. Take some time to just think about your story. Meditate a bit, if you want. Do some yoga. Eat some chocolate. Go to Starbucks and type our some random words. Warm-up and get prepared for the long haul of writing 50,000 words in a month. Have fun with this. Know that it will all work out in the end. Know that you’re doing some great and brave and awesome. Know that you will be a better person, and writer, afterwards. Know that your story is going to thank you. Know that “the world needs your novel,” (credits: the NaNoWriMo site) and this is just the first step in getting it out there.

Most importantly: write.

~ J. Dominique

NaNoSetting #3: The Impact of a Setting

We have three things to talk about today: history, scenes, and impact.

Let’s start with history.

When you’re making a setting, it’s not just about the where, but also the when. How much has your setting changed from a hundred years ago? A thousand years ago? What events in the history of your land have changed the setting? Was there a great outburst of fires? Was there a razing of a magical forest?

Remember to include your history in your setting. Not just the physical things, too. Include magical things, political things, things that have had little impact, and things that have had huge impact.

Now, let’s talk a little bit about writing your setting into your story.

You should know that you don’t want to dump your whole setting onto the reader all at once. You want to slide it into the story, so that, in the end, the reader goes, “Wow. That was one good setting. I didn’t even realize it, but as I was reading, the author was putting more and more setting into my mind!” Or something like that.

The point is, you want the reader to go away with a good sense of setting without even knowing that they’re being told things about the setting. In other words, you want such a good setting that YOU don’t have to think about writing about setting, but it automatically gets written into your story.

If you can achieve this, you’re gold.

How do you make your setting so good, so whole, so complete, though? It requires a lot of work, let me tell you. You must slave over this setting (if it’s imagined or not). You must know everything about it. Every detail in the scene, every detail in the history of the place, every detail in how the setting will change your characters.

You. Must. Know. Every. Detail.

That’s it, plain and simple.

How about we spend some time on impact now?

This is a broad subject. As there are only ten days left to NaNoWriMo, I will leave you with this last thing to think about. Impact. Impact. Impact.

What impact will your setting have on your plot, your characters, your story? What will your setting do to change the direction of your story? How will it influence it?

There are endless questions, but I trust you to find the right one.

Now. This brings us to the end of NaNoSetting. I know there are millions of things to talk about more, but hopefully I have covered the basics, and hopefully you know just a bit more about setting and how to work with it.

Thank you for reading, and Happy Setting and Writing!

~ J. Dominique

NaNoSetting #2: Making Your Setting Work

There is a lot to talk about today, so I won’t go too deeply into any of below mentioned topics, for time’s sake.
There is no right or wrong way to go forming a setting as long as you have these crucial components: science, society/government, culture, and flora and fauna.

1. Science
How would one define science? Dictionary.com says: a branch of knowledge dealing with a body of facts or truths. I would define it as knowing the inner workings of a certain topic/object/lifestyle. It’s a broad subject: you can define is as something different, whatever works for you.

Every world has its own definition of science, and each one will have a different type of science. If you are living in a magical world, your rules of science will change because of that magic.

How does one create a whole different science? It’s difficult. Just think of all the details there is in our science! It would be impossible to create that much.

You don’t need to. You just need to know what matters to your story. Reflect on that.

If you are writing a contemporary story, you’ll have a much easier time with setting because you don’t have to create as much. I have found, though, that because of this thinking, I don’t rely on setting as much. Remember: setting is extremely important, in every story.

If you are writing a historical, you’ll need to remember that not all science has been founded at that certain point. Research who knew what when and where.

2. Society and Government
As you will find with all four of these categories, each world has its own type. You will need to make quite a few of things for your setting (unless it is contemporary or historical).

Who “reigns”? Is it a monarchy? Is it a gynarchy? How does that person reign? Who helps him/her reign? Do the people like how it’s reigned (is it totalitarian?)?

As for society, what is considered the norm and the oddity? Do people help others or avoid them? Is it usual to do this, or will you get put in jail for doing this? There are plenty of questions to ask yourself when thinking up the society and government. I urge you to Google these or come up with them on your own.

3. Culture
Here are some things to consider when thinking about culture: language, clothes, food, habits, traditions, hobbies, entertainment, work, money/trade, school. . . . The list goes on.

Basically, unless it pertains to your story, you don’t need to create every little detail. I would, however, advise doing most of the details because you’ll find it inadvertently makes a more whole story.

4. Flora and Fauna
If you’re in a fantasy world, what do the creatures look like? What do they eat? Where do they live? What are their habits? What impact will they have in a story?

If you’re writing a dystopian sci-fi, perhaps the animals have mutated. What is a cat like now? A dog? A fish?
If you’re writing a contemporary or historical, remember to make sure each animal is constant with its nature.

As for flora, what are the plants like in your world? What uses do they have? Are they poisonous?

What does the landscape look like? A lot of deserts, water, or meadows?

Remember the importance of your flora, even in contemporary. The surroundings will have a huge impact on your character. Perhaps someone hates the heat but lives in the desert. Perhaps someone loves water, so lives close to water. Think of these things: How will the setting create conflict for my character?

There are many more things to think up on setting. I’m sure you can find them on the internet, or if you want more info, you could always contact me at jdominique37@hotmail.com

Thank you for reading, and happy writing! NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, so I hope your setting is coming along well!

~ J. Dominique