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