An authentic and unique voice – it’s what every publisher is looking for in a manuscript, and what every writer is trying to project. It was certainly the topic of the day at the Gold Coast Writers Festival this weekend. So what exactly is this illusive quality?
Writer Joe Moore sums it up this way: “Just like a musician playing the notes on the sheet music, finding your writer’s voice is the process of communicating with your reader the emotions and feelings you feel through your characters.”
Other writers and experts define voice in terms of the author’s style, word choice, and tone. But the definition is hardly important, the real question is how to develop it.
Voice comes though everything we write – whether it’s a text, a blog, or a 100,000 word manuscript. But projecting a voice that is original and authentic can pose a challenge.
I began writing fiction for my children after a family holiday on the Noosa River. I had been in television news for 15 years, so I was pretty confident that I could write an adventure story for kids. But moving from a reporter’s voice to the voice of a ten-year-old boy was a little more challenging than I had anticipated.
I was unsure how to tell my story. I suppose I expected that there would be a correct formula to follow for writing a story. But that’s the wonderful (and tricky) thing about creative writing – there are few hard and fast rules.
As a news reporter I was also used to keeping my emotions and opinions out of my stories – to project an impartial voice. Fiction requires the opposite treatment. Characters have a background, attitudes and personalities and they all have to shine through.
Having written eleven books for children and young adults, I feel like I’m a little closer to understanding the concept of voice. It’s not something I consciously consider when I’m writing, but there are skills that help a writer achieve an authentic voice.
Voice is about confidence and honesty – trusting yourself to write your story, your own way, writing what you believe to be the truth, knowing your characters inside and out, and being brave enough to reveal yourself through your characters.
The biggest impediments to an authentic voice are distance and vanity – leaving your emotions out of your story, and writing to sound clever, even when it’s out of place in the story. I’ve been guilty of that!
So, here are my suggestions for developing an authentic voice.
- Trust yourself
- Be honest
- Write about things you care about, not what’s fashionable
- Write for someone specific
- Use your experience
- Don’t be afraid to reveal your own attitudes through your characters
- Keep your mind open to inspiration
- Get inside your characters’ heads
- Tell your reader a story, don’t write to impress them
- If something feels wrong, it probably is, so change it
- Learn from other writers
- Read, read read
- Write, write, write
- Let your writing flow in the fist draft
- Finish something
Thank you to the Gold Coast Writers Festival for inviting me to speak, and congratulations to the other talented writers who shared their knowledge and stories at the READ. WRITE. CREATE event – Mandy Nolan, Charmaine Clancy, Vacen Taylor , Bryan Vadas and Angelika Heurich.