“I don’t think it is possible to give tips for finding one’s voice; it’s one of those things for which there aren’t really any tricks or shortcuts, or even any advice that necessarily translates from writer to writer. All I can tell you is to write as much as possible.” – Poppy Z. Brite

Voice: it’s that thing which every writer has, the one single thing that every writer needs. It’s also one of the hardest things to explain or to improve upon as a writer. Voice is at the core of our writing; it’s what makes our books sparkle and shine. And there’s no real way to improve voice except to read and write, read and write. Writing’s not something you can master in a day or even in a month; it takes years of practice to write publishable stories or novels. Voice is the main reason for that-because you need to practice and practice and practice to find your true voice, and once you’ve found that voice, writing becomes a lot easier-and your writing becomes a lot better.

There are multiple layers of voice: the voice that is yours and yours alone, the voice which belongs to the genre you’re writing in, and the voice of your character. The voice that is yours and yours alone is usually most evident in sentence structure, and in the level of attention to detail. It’s something which makes a story identifiable as yours; it’s the underlying truth of the story. The voice which belongs to the genre you’re writing in dictates the tools of the genre and the tone of your writing-the writing of a romance novel will have a different tone than that of a mystery novel. How important the voice of your character is depends on whether you’re writing in third person or first person, but it always makes a difference. In particular it’s important to know how well your character is educated, and to make sure not to use words that are well beyond their knowledge.

You can only improve your voice by writing more. You can only improve your genre voice by reading and writing in that genre, and studying what makes it different from other genres. And you can only improve your character’s voice by writing more pieces from their point of view.

Today I’d like you to write three pieces, each one focused on a different kind of voice.

The first will be a couple paragraphs from your point of view. Imagine you’ve gone on a trip or a retreat of some sort and that you’re in the absolute middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees, maybe a lake or a river, and animals of all kinds. Describe that place, the perfect place for you.

For the second I want you to write a couple paragraphs describing that same place, but throwing in something commonly seen in your preferred genre. Focus on using tone to convey genre, and don’t think too hard about the character that’s seeing it.

Take a character that’s important in your stories but who you’re not too comfortable writing as, and describe-from their point of view-describing the place that you wrote about in the first piece. Make sure that the tone of the words still fits with the genre, and that the words themselves fit with who you are.

Your voice remains at the core of all three pieces, but if you did it right, you’ll notice that as one layers onto the other, it goes from being a description of a place to part of a story-part of someone else’s story.

How noticeable is the difference between your voice and that of your character?

5 thoughts on “Voice

  • Sound advice that is a must when entering the profession of writing. But what is the profession like when you get there? I’ve tried to share my experiences after 43 years and on-going of writing for pay. My 16th published book is a kindle, so I have gone from old school to new. I was a magazine editor for 10 years, and I have also written screenplays. I think that I have a lot in common with you Dianna, so I wanted to share this blog posting.

    • Hello and thanks for joining the discussion. I’m glad that you enjoyed this post and I hope you’ll come to enjoy many more. As for your own, it really does describe the condition of the starving artist, because true writers and artists really will survive on almost nothing, sacrificing much of their lives to their art.

      If you don’t mind me asking, how do you like the kindle program? Do you prefer the old school or the new school?

  • redparrot


    Loved the exercise. Posted the results in usual location. http://redparrot.wordpress.com/

    That was educational. There is cerainly similarities among the three – topically, there is variation. The last two are more threatening than “me”. Which is good. 😀

    I like how the details “make” the speaker in some ways. That is … what they notice / talk about is what really brings out who is talking.

    Great exercise. As ever, looking forward to more.


    • RP,

      These are some lovely pieces. Elgin’s piece is written beautifully-I like the use of the word oppression to describe the heat-and it leaves me with some questions. Mainly why Elgin’s flesh isn’t cold-just because of the outside, or for another reason?

      Your voice exercise showed exactly what I’m talking about, and did so quite well. I like how each paragraph focuses on different things, and how they slowly become more dark and foreboding. Thanks so much for sharing this.


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