Finding Voice

You must strive to find your own voice, because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all.

– Prof. Keating (Robin Williams) in Dead Poets Society

In critique groups, writing conference presentations, and books dedicated to the craft, I’ve often seen reference made to “finding your voice.”

Sadly, the description of what that is and instructions on how to do so are all fairly vague–by necessity. Voice is a big part of what sets one author apart from another in writing. But it’s an elusive quality, hard to pin down sometimes, let alone to document in a how-to book. The consensus is, the best way to find it is to write, write, write. And then write some more.

I don’t think I could give a lot of clear, descriptive adjectives about the sound of my wife’s voice. But you can bet I’ll recognize it as soon as I hear it.

One good practice is to look at examples where an author has a particular style that sets them apart. Read how they write, and consider how the word choice and sentence structure create the desired effects.

I somehow missed that Prince Lestat came out at the end of 2013. I picked it up as a travel companion. Very quickly I realized I don’t much care for Anne Rice’s style of writing. In my late teens, I read some of her work and loved it. Now, I deemed it haphazard, a little wordy, with too much rambling for my tastes.

Then again, she’s making money with ease, so who am I to judge? We all like what we like, and she’s clearly got a fan base.

What I did like about the book is that it felt like dropping in on old friends. The chapters written as Lestat sound like that character in my mind… how he would say a thing, how he would interpret events taking place. While I may not like the writing style, the voice shines through.

Another great example is this gem I picked up solely based on a recommendation by Brandon Sanderson in one of his blog posts: The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp.

It’s a madcap adventure through an England on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution, with an intrusion of magic into the real world. The “voice” Tripp uses for his characters and their descriptions of his world seem effortlessly perfect. Line after line stands crafted to drop the reader squarely into Kit Bristol’s head, with no cracks or flaws in the writing to jar the reader. It is chaotic and quite silly–no serious thinking required here. Therefore, it probably falls in a “love it or hate it” category. But for a light-hearted jaunt, or a mental break from the demands of the real world, the book serves well.

I now can see that’s more likely the result of dedication and hard work than a gift of luck or genius as a writer. And this gives me hope. Because otherwise I’d read something like his work, declare my inability to match such skill, and go play video games for the rest of my days.

One thought on “Finding Voice”

  1. It never ceases to amaze me to discover how much effort really goes into any type of art form that appears so effortless when done really well. Something to aspire to, for sure!

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