Develop Your Voice

Voice. Finding your authorial voice is difficult and vital. It’s a big step on the “How to Be a Writer” journey.  Mostly, that journey looks like this:
1. Learn the rules.
2. Figure out which rules you want to break.
3. Make it work.

1. Learn the Rules

To write, you have to learn and master your language. The grammar, syntax, punctuation, formatting, etc. For the most part, we learn these rules organically as we grow up. If you want to write, treat language as your job.
Tip: Taking a foreign language class can allow you to re-learn those rules in a different context.

2. Break the Rules

Then you have to learn how to break those rules. Or at the very least know that those rules aren’t all of what makes up a good story. Some people will argue on this point. They’ll argue that perfect grammar/syntax is required for good writing. But good writing and good storytelling are not always the same thing. For example, professional language and legal language are the most “correct” ways to say something. They convey clarity and precision in terms. But they don’t make for easy reading, do they?
This means that even if you can put together a charming soliloquy with all the right formatting and vocabulary, you’re not going to find a big audience outside Shakespeare that will read it. Finding your own style is as much about developing your technical skills with a language as it is knowing how to find all the loopholes. For instance, if you’re writing dialogue, it has to feel real. It can’t be a pages-long soliloquy that comes off as stilted or jarring.
Of course, voice is something far beyond the technical aspect of writing. It’s only one piece of the puzzle, really. You also have to look at tension, pacing, character and plot arcs, balance of dialogue, scene vs. summary. These are things that you can learn in a classroom or on your own, depending on you and how you learn best. For me, it’s a combination of the two. The best advice is to read read read, and try to figure out how authors do it.
To develop your voice, you have to pay close attention to how you’re making the reader feel and how you’re communicating your story. It’s really only something you can learn by practice and observation. Best advice: do as many writing exercises as you can. Then, work with someone (such as a Critique Partner or a classmate) to learn what is and isn’t working.
Tip: For writing dialogue, go to a public place and listen to the conversations of those nearby. Each person speaks with their own voice, both literally and stylistically. Try to replicate those differences and stylistic flares in your own writing.

3. Make it Work

The biggest step is to go back and make sure the rules you break are working. Revision is the biggest part that writers need to address. People who don’t have experience with writing always think “I’ll write a book and get it published.” They don’t think of the middle steps involving revision, more revision, and more revision.
Revision is where we learn. It’s where we find our mistakes, where we find the stilted dialogue and authorial narration and melt, twist, and bend it into shape. This applies to more than just voice. It applies to all aspects of writing.  But voice is one of the trickier things a writer has to develop, but only because you oftentimes have to get out of your own way to figure it out. A lot of authors have a natural “voice” to their writing style—whatever makes a story feel like that author’s story. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t require a ton of work to make that voice shine and stand out and interplay with the story in a way that makes it feel whole and vibrant.
So. Best advice: practice practice practice, and read read read. And then write. And then revise.

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