[Also check out the other posts in this series: Talking Voice – Part 2: Tone; Talking Voice – Part 3: Character & Stylistic Voices; Talking Voice – Part 4: Non-Fiction]
What is authorial voice? Poetically speaking, it’s the wellspring of your words and the cradle of your artistic intentions. Practically, it’s made up of an array of factors from the specific to the ephemeral, that all encapsulate ‘the way you write.’ Let’s talk authorial voice in the context of fiction writing, one of my favorite craft-of-writing topics.
Your voice is every little personal quirk and tick that make up the way you naturally string words together back to back to create unique communication with your readers. This can include nuts and bolts writing tools such as your instinctive:
- word choice
- word and sentence rhythm
- tone (though tone is very much author-malleable, even for writers just beginning to hone their craft)
These technical items are also shaped by more intangible things such as your:
- Basic mood/disposition (are you a happy, outgoing person? Or do you tend towards something introverted or even melancholy?)
- Experiences (survived cancer? lived rough on a tropical beach for six months? have the best family life you could ask for?)
- Determined intentions (what are you trying to do with your writing arts?)
- What styles/genres/authors have you read and which have you absorbed (consciously or unconsciously)?
That’s a lot to think about. There’s good news here: you don’t really have to juggle all that stuff in your head as you write! It’s going to happen naturally… if you let it.
Authorial voice is first about being yourself. That is the best way to make your writing flow and ring true, both to yourself and your reader. Commit to your voice and don’t get in its way. Readers can tell when you’re forcing your prose to be something imitative. They will respond to your authenticity. Even if there’s something about your story or article that’s off or otherwise uninteresting to them, the voice can keep them with you. Think of a book that you almost put down, but didn’t? Why didn’t you stop? I really didn’t like the preachy libertarianism that suffused Terry Goodkind’s SWORD OF TRUTH books. Not for me, really. But his authorial voice got me all the way to Book 6 despite my rather strong disagreement with his socio-political philosophies. That’s the power that commitment to voice can bring. And as it happened, I like the raw sharpness of his voice. Also try THE GIRL WHO WOULD BE KING by Kelly Thompson, for an example of a wonderful voice that exudes commitment: smooth and modern, while being at turns biting and sweet. It’s a great book all the way around, and the voice is consistent from word one to the end.
Speaking of consistency, remember that just because you’ve committed to your voice doesn’t mean that all will go smoothly beginning to end on your first draft. Writing is a multi-pass process and voice is too. Kelly Thompson and Terry Goodkind – like all authors – surely went through a painstaking revision process. As for your efforts, maybe you have to write your book in chunks over several months and the voice gets inconsistent. Or you have an extremely happy life experience – or a terrible one – that makes it harder for you to maintain consistent voice and tone. Life happens, and it causes evolution and change in authorial voice. You can smooth those inconsistencies in revision. A professional editor can absorb your voice and seek to preserve it all the way through your text. (Make sure to contact a good one.) Maybe it takes rewriting an entire scene from a different PoV or emotional feeling, or maybe you can fix the voice just by changing or removing a few words. Unless the inconsistencies are just too great, it can be fixed.
A good writer can, will, and should write in different voices. The key to being able to do this successfully is to first commit to your own natural authorial voice and get comfortable with how it is and how it changes. The best way to do this is free writing. Just get a topic from anywhere and go. When you free yourself from expectations and overly strong intentions, your voice will coalesce with little effort. And you’ll like it!
Every writer is different, and we need every writer to be different. Your unique authorial voice has a place in the world. So commit to being yourself. The art form will be the better for it.
Coming Soon: Talking Voice – Part 2: Voice vs. Tone; Talking Voice – Part 3: Character & Stylistic Voices; Talking Voice – Part 4: Non-Fiction