Finding Your Author Voice

Mar 22, 2012

Especially in YA, there's a lot of talk about writing a good character voice. And it's incredibly important to do that. There's another type of voice that's important, though-- your own voice as an author.

To me, your author voice is a combination of several things. It takes in everything from your sentence-level writing (do you write long, flowing sentences, or short punchy ones; is your writing clear-cut and straightforward, or more descriptive and literary?), to how you structure chapters and the story as a whole (short and cinematic like Dan Brown, or long and complex like Robert Jordan?), to the type of stories you focus on (funny and light, or deep and dark?).

Obviously these things can change from book to book, but in general, each of us tends to develop a certain "style" as we write. It's something that helps readers identify with us from book to book-- it's why we love certain authors even when they write a different book.

It can take lots of practice to find your own author voice. It takes experimenting with different styles and stories, and reading different types of styles and stories, and examining your writing to find the strengths you want to emphasize.

It took me years. I wrote short stories and novellas all through high school, and they covered everything from a murder-mystery, ghost stories, alien abductions, fun contemporary love stories, apocalyptic adventures...lots of different types of stories with lots of different types of writing. It wasn't until freshman year of college that I found the most important parts of my author voice.

For my creative writing class, I wrote story after story with grandiose literary language and melodramatic plots. Then I had a new idea. And it was creepy. And I was afraid to write it. But it was COOL. So I wrote a short story about a sociopath who signed up to watch a prison execution, and ended up escalating into a serial killer. It was from the killer's point of view, and I was terrified to show it to anyone. They'd all think I was horrible for writing such a story, especially my teacher at the conservative, religious college I attended.

However, my teacher gave me the highest score and most positive comments on that story of any I'd written that year. My dad, who read all my stuff, told me that it was the best thing I'd ever written (granted, yes, he's biased). But I learned something about myself. I wrote better when I wrote short and to the point. I wrote better when I wrote about difficult concepts-- addressing the complexities of complex situations that don't always have happy endings.

That "aha" moment changed my writing as I focused on my strengths. It helped me find my voice as an author.

So, my friends, what are some of the characteristics that make up your writing voice? What are your strengths as a writer? How did you find, or how are you finding, your own author voice?


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17 comments:

Chantele Sedgwick said...

I wish I had beautiful flowery prose, but I tend to have shorter sentences and get right to the point. My chapters are on the shorter side, and my books are very clean and usually humorous with more serious undertones if that makes sense. The MC is usually struggling, but I love throwing humor in the book to make the subject a little lighter. What's funny is I started writing more suspenseful adult novels and then moved to light and fun in YA. But I found my niche, so it's all good. :)

Abby Minard said...

I have found my writing style to be more descriptive- I write traditional fantasy and I'd like to think to compare myself to Kristin Cashore or Sharon Shinn. But the new one I'm writing is a little more contemporary so it's changed ever so slightly, but I can still see my style peeking out.

Teralyn Rose Pilgrim said...

I'm glad you asked me that question because it's got me thinking.

I'm still not pleased with my sentence-by-sentence style, so that's a work in progress. I love drama; I enjoy taking my readers as high and as low as I can within the same book. I alawys have a purpose behind my work; it's never just about telling a story. Whenever I write in narrative my critique partners complain, so I guess I'm good at writing in-scene. I like to explore unusual ways of living and thinking, which is probably why I write historical fiction.

I'll have to think about this more later. What a thought-provoking post!

Cortney Pearson said...

My voice depends on what mood I'm in and who my main character is. It probably shouldn't change, but for me it does! I have a chick lit book where the character is completely hilarious, sarcastic, and snarky. My fantasy book on the other hand, the MC is more mellow. She still has *voice* but she's not quite as cynical.

Melanie Stanford said...

I liked your post. I've found my writing voice to be more light and fun. While I do put in tense or hard moments, in general, I like to have fun with my writing and reading. A few times I've felt almost embarrassed by it, but I know now not to be- it's just my style.

Jolene Perry said...

I tend to be shorter sentences, and simple straight-forward words.

TWO things helped me find my voice.
1. blogging because I really, really just want to be myself on my blog. I blog to meet people who I get along with and there's no way to do that if I'm being someone else.

2. I REALLY became aware of my voice and how it changes when I did a multi-POV book. On round one they two people sounded the same. So that was my first lesson in how to write like me, but also to allow the characters, their ticks, their pet words in to my voice.

I think this comment is now long enough for me to cut and copy it into my own blog post, lol

Angela Cothran said...

I think I'm still working this out. Part of my problem is that I love so many types of genres and they are all so different. But one think all my stories have in common is some kind of moral theme. I don't go for fluff of any kind. I want my writing to make people think even if it is funny and light.

Great post btw :)

Jessie Humphries said...

You got.me with my pants down on this one (figuratively speakin:) I think I probably have some kind of voice, but putting a description on it would be hard right this second...

Leigh Covington said...

This is awesome. Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing it right. My sentences seem to be more flowery and descriptive. Then I have short and to the point ones to make a stronger impact. But it's good to know that it's all right. We all do it different and what's important is to find which one best suits you. Thanks for sharing.

Jenny S. Morris said...

I wish I could write long flowery stuff but it ends up be pretty to the point. My latest WIP I thought the idea would be all happy and flowery, but alas it is dark and sad that characters are all tortured. I can't seem to get away from that.

I think I am still finding my voice. ;0)

Lynda R Young said...

I have a thing for the music of words. I love the rhythms and the pace fluctuations. Little nuances to keep the reader's eyes dancing across the page. This is not to say my prose reads like a musical piece. It's too subtle for that. In truth I doubt anyone would notice, but I guess that's the trick, isn't it? Of course, I used to go too flowery, caught up in the art of the creation, lol. I've toned it down a lot now. Yep, finding voice is a slow process and I'm still discovering and honing mine.

Meredith said...

Oooh, that short story sounds like something I'd love to read! It took me years to find my author voice, too, but it really does make all the difference.

Medeia Sharif said...

I don't know how to describe my voice, but my cp's tell me that with whatever WIP I bring to them, I have a voice and style consistent throughout.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I envy writers who writer long and flowery descriptions. My personal style is light and fun though I have a tendency to write long chapters.

Anthony Dutson said...

We each find our stride in interesting ways. It's kinda funny that it's usually outside something we're comfortable with.

I stripped my 5,000 word first chapter to just under 3,000 words for a first chapter contest I recently entered. My writing group universally agreed that it killed my voice and story. Conversely, long and flowery doesn't work for me either, but there's a sweet spot right in the middle, that if I can hit it, seems to be my true groove.

Peggy Eddleman said...

Wow! Great story! I love how experimenting can help you really find your voice. Admittedly, all of my experimenting has been within the same age category. I think it just fits with me.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I know I've signed up for your blog in my Google reader, but I didn't see this post! That sociopath story sounds very interesting! Ever think of making a book out of it?

And voice...wow. Yes, part of it comes from our hearts, the place our writing flows from. But part of it is tweaked and developed, thanks to awesome editors who help us find that perfect "word rhythm" for us.

 
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