Monday, July 11, 2011


We've all heard it. Agents and editors want to read an original voice in the manuscripts they request. Well, what does that mean, exactly? How do you find your voice?
Think about it this way. We all have different personalities, and it translates into our writing. We each have a unique writing style and voice, even if we don't know it.
When I started writing I had no clue what a "writing voice" was. I just wrote what I wanted to write and either hated it or loved it. Well, when I read through my books again, I realized I did have a voice. My writing has it's own style. It's own tone. It's kind of weird when you realize it. You sit there and think, "Where the heck is my voice," and it's been there right in front of you the whole time.

I think of it as using a little of your own personality in your books. Some of your own beliefs, hobbies, humor, personal observations or how you describe things, and of course, passion. So, here are a few ways to find your voice if you haven't found it already. :) I'm not an expert, so if you want to throw these ideas out the window or stomp on them, that's totally fine. Remember, I'm an aspiring author just like a lot of you guys. :)

1. Read, read, READ!! You cannot be a successful author if you don't read. At least in my opinion. It's great practice for writers to read books and notice the writing voice of the author. One thing I've found myself doing with my reading lately, is I notice more things. I pick out pacing and structure of the story. I can tell a good book from a poorly written one within the first few chapters. I find mistakes more often. While this sort of bugs me, it gives me ideas of things that are working or not working in my own WIP's. So, I say again ... READ! :) I do find that sometimes I have to read a book out of the genre I write before I work on my WIP at times. I don't want to copy the voice I'm reading. If that makes sense...

2. Try your hand at every genre you can. Sometimes you never know what you should write until you try. I started out writing adult contemporary and figured out my heart just wasn't into it. Then I looked at what I was reading. Young adult. I tried writing a YA fantasy and have been hooked ever since. Some people can write in several genres and are good at switching over, but I can't do it. I can write several genres within young adult though. But my drug of choice is mostly paranormal/urban fantasy. :)

3. Think about why you loved a certain book. Get into the authors head and try to figure out what drove her to write such an amazing story. If you can have that much passion for your own work, you'll fall in love with your book all over again and find things that can make it so much better.

4. Think about things that make you happy, things that scare you, etc. Putting real life fears and emotions into your manuscript add a ton to the voice and tone. I find when I write about a certain subject that I've actually experienced, my writing is stronger. You can tell when an author is trying too hard, but you can also tell when they know exactly what they are talking about. You can feel the emotions coming off the page. Love books like that.

5. Get to know your character inside and out. Know exactly what they'll do in a certain situation and the reason for doing it. It's hard to get so deep inside your character, especially if it's the villain or your book has a darker theme. But it will pay off in the end. The more you know your character, the more real he/she will be. The more they'll come alive on the page and the the reader will love your story even more.

6. You HAVE to care about what you're writing. If you don't, readers will be able to tell. Agents and editors will pick apart your story from the minute they sit down to read. If you don't care about the subject or your characters, why are you writing in the first place? You have to love them. Believe in them. Want them to be as real as can be. If you're writing in a genre just to follow the crowd and are hating every minute of it, you won't get very far in this industry. You don't have to follow everyone else. Write what you love in the genre you love. You'll be happier and your writing will show it.

7. Take risks. If you have an idea for a story that seems a little different than what you normally write, go for it! Even if your story will push your buttons or make you squirm a little, if it's calling your name, by all means, don't ignore it.  I find the characters that talk to me the most and don't stop bugging me, are my best work. I have one WIP that is totally different from anything I've written, but I love it and think it has some of my best writing in it. I almost didn't write it, but I had to get it down. And once I did, the words just came.

8. Write what you love and never ever give up. I know I've wanted to stop in the middle of probably every one of my books. Sometimes I get this feeling that I'll never pull this writing thing off. People won't ever get what I'm trying to say with my books. Then I sit back and relax. Everyone goes through this. Every writer I know has had a point in every project that they lose hope and want to delete the whole thing. Don't do it. Keep writing. Your voice is there. The book is yours. Just keep practicing, write from your heart and let your story play out on its own.

What advice do you guys have about voice?


Anonymous said...

Awesome advice! I'm going to dive into rewrites soon where I'll have to focus intently on the actual writing. Hopefully my voice will come out! I'm pretty sure it's extremely sarcastic, though. They say life isn't about finding yourself, it's about creating yourself. Maybe the same goes for voice. ;)

Jen said...

All of these are great tips! The only thing I would add is to not compromise a voice you're comfortable with just because someone else thinks you should write it differently. Yes, good critiques should be taken, but sometimes we have to step back and decided if that critique is really beneficial to the story or not.

Chantele Sedgwick said...

@Madeline Bartos I totally agree, Madeline!
@Jen That is an awesome tip. Be grateful for critiques, but remember YOU are the one writing the story. Don't change your voice just because one person thinks you should write it differently. :) Thanks!!

Natalie said...

I love #2! When I started writing I wrote YA. When I switched to MG my voice just clicked. It's more natural for me to sound 12 than 16. :)

Melanie Jacobson said...

Yeah. Voice is king. It's probably uncool to admit this, but I'm one of those in the camp that thinks it can't be taught. And I say that as someone with five years' experience teaching 8th grade creative writing. I had kids with great mechanics who could string the right elements together and it was always . . . pleasant. And then I had those kids who turned in hot messes, but they were exciting hot messes. I will forgive a lot in something I'm reading if the voice is strong.

Chantele Sedgwick said...

@Natalie Ha ha! Nothing wrong with sounding 12! :)

Emily Rittel-King said...

Wonderful post. I do think you can too much personality in your voice. You know, too many quirks that can get irritating, but overall it is so important to distinguish your characters. All of your advice is dead on!

erica and christy said...

My problem with my WIP was that I concentrated SO MUCH on voice that my character had loads of it, but kept forgetting to DO ANYTHING. I had 80+ pages of mostly dialogue...oops. But with that behind me, I know him well and my rewrite has him actually making progress toward his goal!!

Michael Offutt said...

"Voice" to me is what an agent uses to say, "I want a female protagonist talking in the first person."

They can't just come out and lambast third-person because there happen to be novels out there that get published in third person (that they probably hate) which are successful. So yeah...write in first person and get your "voice."

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Excellent tips for developing voice. Personality is the key, although I agree with Emily about too much quirkiness.

Patti said...

That is all such great advice, especially the reading books, because you see what works for you and what doesn't.

Jolene Perry said...

Try different tenses and different pov's.
When I switched to present from past? I found my writing voice.

L.J. said...

Great advice! I think voice is, like you said, who you are. Finding your voice can be as simple as just writing as you would talk, without changing for who you think your audience will be. Leave the grammar and spelling for editing. Just get it all out how you hear it in your head first.

Great post!

J.L. Campbell said...

Really great post. It does take a while before we writers find our voice. When we do, there's no stopping us. I agree with you that writers need to read - I've learned so much based on a lifetime of reading. These days I read both as reader and writer and my work is better for that experience.

LynNerd said...

Reading as much as possible is always important in refining our writing skills. I didn't know what voice was either when I first started writing. And it's a tough one to teach, isn't it? I think that if we're passionate about what we're writing about, then the voice comes through. I hope!

Peggy Eddleman said...

I think I need to go back and work on #2. I have experimented in my own age group (middle grade), but not much outside of it. Plus, I think that writing a kissing scene could very well kill me. Someday I need to test that theory to see if it's true. :)

And I know I've said this before, but the look of your blog makes me happy! I just stare and stare at it every time I come here. I love it!

Kimberly Krey said...

All such great, great things to keep in mind. I agree with all of it, and I'm right with you on the numero uno: Read, read, read! I too think writers shouldn't dream of leaving it behind; it's a total must.

Ruth said...

Love it all:) It took me a while to find my voice. Like you, it was there all along. I think experimenting with your work helps narrow voice down and what works best for you.

Chantele Sedgwick said...

@Melanie Jacobson I totally agree. If the voice is strong, then I usually love the story. If the story is good but the voice isn't really there? Meh. :)
@Emily Rittel-King I agree. You can definitely put too much personality in your voice.
@erica and christy Ha! I had that problem in my last WIP! I had way too much dialogue and cut a LOT of it. It was so much stronger when I made my character actually do something rather than sit around and talk all the time. ;)
@Michael Offutt I agree. I can't really write in 3rd, but I do know a lot of people that can. I just can't seem to do it. 1st person just works for me. ;)
@L. Diane Wolfe Me too. Too much quirkiness can distract me when I read.
@Patti I love reading. It's so fun seeing how other authors describe things and how different their characters are. I do love seeing what works for them and not for me as well. Personality traits that annoy me and I swear I won't ever give them to my characters, is one example. ;)
@Jolene Perry I switched from 3rd to 1st and found my voice. Love 1st person past tense. Love. :)
@L.J. Great advice! Leave the grammar and spelling for editing and just get the story out. Awesome!!
@J.L. Campbell Me too. I love reading a book I absolutely love. It makes me want to write even better and motivates me so much more. :)
@LynNerd If you're passionate about your writing and your book, your voice WILL come through!
@Peggy Eddleman Ha! I LOVE writing kissing scenes! Not in graphic detail where the guy practically eats the girl's face, but sweet ones. ;) Thank you so much! I'm glad my blog makes you happy! :D
@Kimberly Krey Yes. Reading is something I make time for. It always seems to motivate me when I've finished a great book. ;)
@Ruth I agree. Experiment and find out what you really love to write. That's how I found my voice! ;)

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Great post and list! I love what you say here: "When I started writing I had no clue what a "writing voice" was. I just wrote what I wanted to write and either hated it or loved it."

It's good to be aware of these things, but I'm a huge believer in learning the craft and then letting our subconscious and instinct guide us in the things that are too huge to even try to control - like voice. That's what I believe today, anyway. That could always change. :)

Chantele Sedgwick said...

@Michelle Davidson Argyle I believe that too. Learn the craft, but be ourselves when it comes to voice. Hopefully I'll keep telling myself that! ;)