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

August Update — New Plans!

This post is just going to be an update on what I’ve been up to this summer (not much), and what I’m planning to do these following months. I hope that posting this online will help keep me accountable!

These next few months are very important for me, both as a student and a writer. I am currently sixteen years old and entering my last year of high school — approximately this time next year I’ll be in college. Scary, huh? I’m a little excited, a little apprehensive.

Either way, though, I’m sure college is going to be harder on me than high school currently is. In fact, I’d say I have it pretty easy right now. I don’t have a lot of extracurricular activities and my school load is light. I have plenty of time right now to write. So to say I need to be getting quite a bit done during this last year is an understatement. Of course, I need to make time for writing in college as well, but I also want to make the most of the time I have now.

Lately, I haven’t been writing much. Not because of lack of inspiration — I’ve had plenty, and I’ve wanted to write. The problem is that the stage I’m in right now is editing. And while I don’t hate editing . . . I don’t exactly like it. It’s a bit tedious to me. Of course, I understand that it’s a necessary part of the writing process.

Anyway, the other night I was rereading through my story to get a better handle on it so I could reorganize my plot when I realized something: I drafted this story a year and a half ago. My writing ability has gotten a lot better since then. My story, also, has developed a lot since then. Simply put, it would be much easier for me to completely rewrite/redraft the whole series than to try and edit what I have. I’m not quite sure why this didn’t occur to me earlier.

And you know what? I’m really excited about this. I know that I’m going to have to edit later on, and I’ll get to that then, but soon I’ll be able to enjoy actually writing, and that makes me super happy.

So what I’m going to do now is review what I currently have, map out a new plotline to use, further develop my characters and world, and hopefully by the time NaNoWriMo comes around this November, I’ll be prepared to start drafting anew my series. It’s doable, definitely. This week, I’ve gotten more work done that I have all summer (basically, all I got done this summer was watching anime and reading books, but hey, I don’t usually get summers off, okay? — yeah, yeah, I know, no excuse).

How are you and all your writing endeavors going? Has there ever been a point when you’ve realized that you need to stop pushing yourself so hard and start from scratch again (and in a different situation, perhaps)? It can be tough sometimes, or sometimes it can be relieving. As writers, we have to make some tough decisions.

There ends my update — I hope you all are doing well! Keep on writing and having fun with it!

~ J. Dominique

Your Characters According to Your Fandoms

As writers, we’re enveloped by stories. We all probably haves many — if not thousands — of stories that influence our own tales. Whether it be books, movies, TV shows, or anything else, we’re drawn to the struggles between characters in worlds we can’t reach and circumstances we’ve never experienced.

These things are often called “fandoms.” Popular books fandoms are Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, etc. Marvel and DC are vast movie and comic fandoms. Doctor Who and Once Upon a Time and anime shows are full of fans as well.

Fandoms have a lot to do with our daily writing life. They’re a huge source of inspiration and encouragement, as well as many other things. But today, I’m going to focus on one thing we can use to help develop our characters: categorizations.

That’s a really vague term, so to clarify, I’m going to use Harry Potter as an example. Harry Potter, perhaps, is used most frequently in what I’m talking about. In certain fandoms, there are what you would call “categorizations,” or maybe divisions, sections, whatever. In Harry Potter, they are Houses. Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Four different character types, if you will.

It can be a fun exercise to take your cast of characters and sort them into each House based upon their personalities. Evaluate their actions and reactions, their outlooks on life, etc. Do they fit evenly into one House or are they a mixture of the Houses? Would they be happy with the House they’ve been placed in or would they be unsatisfied? If they were stuck in a hatstall (a period of time when the Sorting Hat is stuck between two Houses), what oustanding quality will ultimately decide which House they are placed into?

There are, of course, tons of other fandoms that use categorization in their stories. The Divergent Trilogy has the factions of Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless, Amity, and Candor, based upon your key qualities and aptitude factor. (Although, I think it’s really hard for you to not be Divergent based upon these attributes.)

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Legend of Korra, one of my favorite TV shows, divides their nation into people who can wield either earth, fire, air, or water. What element would your character be most likely to bend? Or another favorite series of mine, Percy Jackson and the Olympians (as well as Heroes of Olympus, its follow-up series), follows kids who are half-bloods, who have one Greek (or Roman, in the case of Heroes of Olympus) god/dess for a parent. Each god or goddess has different personalities and powers that lend themselves to their kids. If your character was a half-blood, who would their godly parent be?

There are many different ways you can take this, too. Broader ways that don’t focus on one specific fandom. If your character was a superhero, who would they be? If your character was in a fairy tale, which one would they be in? And so on. There are endless possibilities.

So what’s the whole point of this? Simply put: to have a fun way to get to know your character. If you’re like me, you love being a part of your fandom and obsessing over little details in the story — and if you’re like me, you equally love spending time with your characters and developing them to be stronger and stronger. This way, you can do both at the same time. Seems like a win-win situation, right?

What are some of your favorite fandoms and the categorizations they contain? How do they pertain to your characters? If this has benefitted you in some way, let me know! Thanks for reading, and keep on writing!

BONUS!: What is your character’s top three favorite fandoms (assuming they live in our modern-day world)?

~ J. Dominique

Endings, Part 2: Types of Endings

Since my last post on endings got too long, I had to split it up. Don’t worry, this one is like half as long. You can read Part 1 here. Today, I’d like to focus on four different types of endings.

First, the epilogue. Should you have one? Depends, really. If you have a prologue, you could do a matching ending and have an epilogue. But then again, lots of people say don’t do prologues, so perhaps that holds true for epilogues, too. Personally, I think it’s fine to do prologues and epilogues as long as they are necessary and they add something to the story. Epilogues, to me, are really just like a bonus chapter. Just something a little extra that adds some more insight to the characters that you normally wouldn’t have. However, bonuses also can be unnecessary, so be careful with that.

How do you define necessary, though? Some people define it by saying it adds something to plot. That definitely works, but I think you prologues and epilogues often serve more to benefit the characters and the emotional undertones of the story. For example, in a novel I wrote, I included a prologue and an epilogue of my protagonist making an observation of her life before the story happened and how she lived in fear and then after the story happened and how she was now content with her life. The prologue gave us a background and a stepping stone into the story and the epilogue told us where the protagonist now stood (because she never said she was now content in the actual story itself). So yes, I do believe prologues and epilogues can be useful.

Next, I would like to talk about cliffhangers. First in the essence of series. Should you leave your book on a cliffhanger? It’s really a tempting idea. We, as the readers, hate it when authors do that. But we, as authors, love torturing our readers. Cliffhangers are interesting little endings, really. They don’t generally happen in the middle of a climax, but after, when the characters think things have calmed down only to be surprised by a violent twist in the plot and — the end! And we have to wait a whole year for the next book . . .

So should you end one of your books in a cliffhanger? I think that’s a personal decision, really. I don’t think you should end the final book of your series in a cliffhanger because 1) that’s just mean and 2) there will be a revolution and 3) that will prove to be an awful ending and will backfire on you. However, the others are fine (in trilogies, the second books most often are the ones ended in cliffhangers).

Second, pertaining to stand-alones, should you end your book in a cliffhanger? Well. I can’t say I’ve read many stand-alone novels that end in such a way. There are many short stories that end that way. But novels? It’s hard to write a good, long novel and then end it on a cliffhanger. So should you? Again, it’s a personal decision. You might have angry fans, but if you feel it’s the right decision for your book, then by all means, do it. If you feel that your book is calling you to do it, that it leaves the right resonance with your readers, go ahead. You are the author. Never forget that.

Third, I’d like to talk about tragic endings. Where things don’t go right. Someone dies. The couple doesn’t get together. The protagonist doesn’t get what he/she wants. The horror. I admit, I haven’t read many stories with tragic endings. However, one thing I know is that even with tragedy, remember that there must be some happiness or hope or light somewhere. Death and grief and rage happen. Life goes on. People deal with it all the time. It’s harsh, it’s cruel. But it’s true, and perhaps that’s what makes it a tragedy. I read once, when writing particularly intense scenes, to focus on the small, seemingly unimportant details. I thought that this seemed like ingenious advice. Because, really, it’s the stupid, small things we think of rather than the important things. What incredible advice.

Finally, the fourth type of ending I’d like to focus on is the open-ended. There are two kinds of open-ended: the really vague and the only slightly vague. By “really vague,” I mean the type that sort of ends on a cliffhanger and totally leaves you with an ambiguous ending. By “slightly vague,” I mean the kind that doesn’t exactly tell you what’s going to happen, but hints at the character’s most likely decision. Open-endings kind of drive me nuts, honestly. I know the author is just like, “I want the reader to choose!” but I’m one of those people who are just like, “But I don’t want to choose — I want you to choose for me ’cause I’m so bad at choosing and I have no idea and you’re the author! You know what really happens anyway!” That being said, I do respect their decision and I do see what they mean by an extent. I would even consider doing an open ending myself someday.

I think, with open endings, resonance will be especially important. If you are wanting the reader to choose an ending, or have a specific ending in mind, you will definitely want them to feel something, right? Stylistically, you’ll want to be very careful with your words. Pointing them in a certain direction will be hard, but readers are smart, too, and if you place the right clues, they can figure it out. Never make it too obvious.

So what do you think about these four alternate endings? Think about trying one of them out, or are you already planning on doing one of them? How is that going for you? Have you read any of books that have used these endings before? How did they pull that off (good or bad)?

Once again, thank you for reading!

Hoping all your writing endeavors are going well and that this has benefitted you in some way,

~ J. Dominique