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Finding your voice, part II

December 16, 2013

If you hang around writers long enough, you’ll hear them talk about how someone’s writing has a strong voice and how you need to find your voice. But your voice is kind of like Potter Stewart’s definition of hard-core pornography: it’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.

Voice is highly personal. My voice would fit you just about as well as my shoes, my hat, or the underwear I wore when I finished Tough Mudder. I included the gross underwear for a specific reason–though you might be able to put them on, you probably wouldn’t want to.

When my uncle read the Spenser series for the first time, he said that when he read the books, he heard Parker’s words in my voice. In point of fact, my voice was, at the time, similar to Parker’s. It was so close that I picked up a lot of Parker’s bad habits. (Listen to a Spenser on CD, and you’ll never overuse dialog tags again.)

Your voice should start with the way you express things. That’s always going to be the starting point. I would not be good at trying to write something expressed by my grandmother. I might be able to pull it off for a brief period of time–maybe even an entire book, but my best work is written in the voice I use for this blog. Intelligent (if I must say so myself), light and humorous, with a pinch of playful snark thrown in at the right places.

Even if those characteristics apply to your voice, it won’t sound like mine. We’re different people. You might be my size and have run a grueling mud race, but you still wouldn’t want to put on my underwear.

In putting this post together, I looked at some other online sources, and found some good ideas in this one. While I would personally skip the steps in which you pick three adjectives or ask other people to evaluate my voice, I would endorse figuring out how you talk, free writing, and asking yourself if your work is something you’d like to read.

But once you figure out your voice, it’s time to grow into it and be confident in using it. When your voice works best is when you aren’t afraid to use it.

  1. December 16, 2013 10:21 am

    If anyone has ever stated, “I don’t know anything about but what you wrote makes so much sense and I loved it!” this means that you have a strong voice and you’re obviously writing what you know. 🙂

  2. December 17, 2013 12:16 pm

    I learned this lesson about voice at a writer’s group critique meeting. One of my critiquers perfectly rewrote the first paragraph of a short story for me. It was done beautifully, and I replaced my original with hers. Then I read on to the next paragraph, and to the next, and I realized that the first paragraph was written by a completely different writer than the rest of the story. And, that’s the rest of this story. Thanks for the good post on voice.

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