Thursday, August 24, 2017

Two Keys to Finding Your Author Voice

My favorite books over time all have a distinct author voice, and I'm sure yours do, too. But what exactly is author voice?

Let's compare books. If you're not familiar with some on my list, think of your favorite books and compare them with each other to discover the author voice in each one.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell vs. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout vs. The Alphabet series by Sue Grafton

Morning  & Evening by Charles Spurgeon vs. Believing God by Beth Moore

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss vs. Brer Rabbit by Joel Chandler Harris

All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg vs. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain vs. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Each of these books has a distinct voice that is memorable and unique. Studying the books in depth reveal significant differences in specific areas: length and structure of sentences and paragraphs, word usage and the simplicity or difficulty of the language used, pacing, dialogue and dialect, and overall imagery and how it is conveyed. These differences create the author voice.

One caution: Many of these examples above take the author voice to the extreme. If your author voice is just as extreme, be careful with it. You don't want to come across as sounding fake or phony - readers will tire of it quickly, and begin to view your work as contrived rather than natural.

We can find hundreds (perhaps thousands) of articles online and even entire books devoted to teaching you how to find your author voice. But experience has shown me there are two basic keys to finding your voice:

1) Get comfortable with your writing. Remember the basics of sentence and paragraph structure, punctuation, overall grammar and then forget the rules that make your writing stilted and formal. Write how you speak - using dashes or ellipses, or incomplete sentences even. Pace your words and sentences naturally. You (or an editor) may end up editing some of your writing for clarity, and to clean up extraneous rambles, but as you learn how to get comfortable, your voice will emerge. [And FYI - great editors work to keep your author voice, not strip it. If you encounter an editor who wipes out your author voice, you may want to get a second opinion.]

2) Just write. Write letters. Write blog posts. Write articles. Write short stories. Write novels. Write scripts. Write devotionals. Write recipes. Write your life story. Write someone else's life story. Spend time daily writing and your author voice will grow stronger from the use of it. Only YOU can write with YOUR author voice.

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