You’ve Found Your Voice—How Do You Keep It?

All praise the almighty Voice.

Each writer has a unique voice, that conglomeration of tone and word choice that makes our work as individual as we are. Great voices stand out, catch our attention, resonate with us, and draw us into their stories. A great voice gets a writer noticed. It is not enough to merely have a great story.

Each story is told best when told in its own unique voice. Think of your favorite book. Your all-time, read-over-and-over, spine-worn-and-dog-eared-page book. Now, concentrate. What kind of voice does it have?

What if that book used another voice? For instance, try a layer of Jane Austen. Or Michael Crichton. Or Erma Bombeck. How would that story change?

Think of your own WIP. Imagine it having a completely different voice. What happens to it?

Do you still want to write it? Does it inspire you to new heights?

A story without its voice is like mashed potatoes without salt. Sure, you can still consume it and it probably won’t kill you, but it lacks a very necessary flavor.

And flavor makes all the difference.

Just as each recipe has its own unique flavor, each story must have its own perfect voice, and it must be consistent throughout the story. A voice that changes half-way though will invariably confuse the reader. A voice that changes as frequently as my daughter changes clothes on the weekend (she’s a touring-Cher-in-training) will baffle a reader completely and perhaps even make her lose interest in the book. It’s not enough for a writer to find that perfect voice—the writer must keep it. Consistency is key.

Writing Bleeding Hearts and its sequels used a voice similar to my own—Sophie is just sassier and a whole lot more heroine-like. Channeling that voice was easy compared to some of my other work, and I’d jumped in and out of Sophie’s POV with relative ease. I suppose part of that is because I wrote those books in chunks of free time, before work or waiting for the kids to get out of school.

My other WIPs use different voices compared to Sophie and her Bleeding Hearts saga. Although they are all fantasy novels, they are different kinds of fantasy—adult traditional, contemporary YA, militant magic realism—and they each have their own voice. None of them use a voice similar to anything I walk around with in my head all day.

Fortunately, I have “blinders” I can wear so that I keep that necessary voice while writing. Most times, a quiet room and a moment of concentration are all I need, but owning children and a dog and a phone hinder those simple requirements. Good thing I’ve learned to adapt to my environment with the use of gentle reminders.

Certain types of music help me stay in voice; other times, a movie playing in another room will keep me focused on my tale. And, oddly, particular types of clothing sometimes help me maintain the right flow.

Usually, a good pair of boots will do it. I’ve a pair of flat-heeled Colin Stuarts that make a nice sharp clack when I walk, providing a cadence for a group of mage-born freedom fighters. My biking jacket, light enough to wear indoors, is perfect when channeling my inner repo man for a character who works for her dad at their magical pawn shop. (It’s close enough to the one Aerie wears when she’s out on a collateral recovery operation.)

And although I usually don’t plan it, my kitchen aprons remind me enough of my traditional fantasy healer’s skirts that I often find myself wandering along her story lines while I’m baking or making tomato sauce.

I don’t think I’ll ever go so far as to pull my old Ren Faire costumes out of the wardrobe, but who knows—maybe one day I’ll strike upon a new idea involving Shakespeare (and the undead, of course) and I’ll spend my writing mornings trussed up like one of Elizabeth’s courtiers. God save the Queen!

Thankfully, however, I need only gentle reminders of each story’s voice in order to maintain a consistent flow and feel. I can only imagine the looks I’d get when fetching the mail if I needed more than a pair of boots or an apron. My neighbors only know me for my day job and wouldn’t attribute odd costumes to the creative quirks of a writer.

Do you have tales to share about how you find and keep your voice? How does it vary among writers of different styles? If you are lucky enough to have constructed the ideal environment and need no such tricks, tell us how you did it.

Voice is everything. Let’s hear yours.

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One response to “You’ve Found Your Voice—How Do You Keep It?

  1. Hi Ash, thanks for this article. I’m always up for discussions on the subject of artistic voice. At one point, I started a series of articles on my blog for how to hone that voice. Here are the first few:

    http://brainripples.wordpress.com/2007/03/06/developing-your-artistic-voice-introduction/

    http://brainripples.wordpress.com/2007/03/30/artistic-voice-part-1-listening/

    http://brainripples.wordpress.com/2007/06/13/artistic-voice-part-2-practice/

    I think that more specific to your comments about the “voice” in each work, for me it’s often about engaging with the emotions and feelings as well as the purpose of each piece. More than that, it’s about pushing myself outside of what’s comfortable, normal, or familiar, and forcing myself to see (and the write) in a new way.

    I like your use of “gentle reminders” and little triggers to help your brain stay on its creative path!

    Jade

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