Friday, April 1, 2011

Teen Inklings Vol. 21: Voice

This month I wanted to talk about authorial voice, as it is something very important for writers to have and develop.

At last year's ACFW Conference, when agents and editors were asked what they look for in the writers who query them, a lot of them said, "Strong voice." This was usually met with a mixture of nods, rolling eyes, and looks of confusion. The confused-looking people were either too shy or embarrassed to ask the real question on their minds, "What in the world is voice?"

You know that's a good question by the diverse array of answers to it. Here's how I'd define it: A writer's voice is the unique style they use to tell a story. It's the difference between James Patterson and Stephen King, Cornelia Funke and Donita K. Paul, Louis L'Amour and Zane Grey, John Flanagan and Rick Riordan. Each of those authors writes fiction, but if you read all their books you'd be able to tell them apart after reading only a page or two of their future works.

Whether you know it or not, everything you write—whether it's a tweet, a Facebook update, or a paper for school—is written in your own individual way. Writer's voice is like your personality or your thumbprint. No one in the world has the same thumbprint as you, and no one has the same voice.

But what exactly is style or voice? It's made up of things like syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, and dialogue. It's the distinct flare you write with. Some writers are funny. Some are dark. Some love sweeping descriptions of setting. Some enjoy scaring the willies out of their readers.

When you're first starting out, you're probably going to copy the style of your favorite authors. But that's okay! The first story I ever wrote was basically LOTR fan fiction (which, I hope, will never see the light of day). Your voice needs time to develop, because it's formed by each and every experience you go through. The way to develop voice is by reading and writing as often as you can. Find out what you like and what you don't like. You might try imitating one of the masters, just to study how voice works.

Anyway, I hope this helps. :)