Changing Voice

The first time I ever heard about “voice” in writing was when I started working on my query letter earlier this year.  Voice seemed to frustrate many would-be authors (including myself) because some critiques shot the writer down for not having enough of it; or none at all.  How frustrating, right?  You set out to write a query meant to impress a would-be literary agent and people nab it for not having voice!

After several months (yes, I meant to write ‘months’) I finally got a query written that got the ‘voice stamp of approval’ when reviewed by fellow aspiring authors.  By the end of the process, I gained an awareness of what signified ‘voice’, but it’s still not something I can easily describe.

I recognize voice when I read multiple novels by the same author.  I notice their writing style and sentence structure, almost like I can name the singer of a song on the radio.  I get a feel for their type of story and on occasion, I can even pick out the ‘formula’ they use for their plots. 

All of this got me to thinking about my own voice.  I looked through writing samples I did back in college versus what I’ve written recently.  Even my writing two years ago is different than what I do now.  I think I know why.  When I first started writing, I chose a more formal style.  I wrote how I thought the professors wanted to see me write.  Some of my writing had as much personality as an English 101 essay (ouch). 

Even when I started my book a couple years ago, I had Mary Higgins Clark in my mind.  I love her suspenseful story-telling.  I think my subconscious interfered and directed me to write like her.  The problem arose when my own style poked through in places; like when the main character cracked a joke instead of breaking into tears, or the sarcastic conversations with her best friend.   It took several revisions for me to take the story back and make it mine.

I’ve accepted that my casual writing style isn’t going to render my novel(s) a classic, but it’s me and the way I’m most comfortable writing.  I write my stories and novels like I would write a letter to a friend; not how I think an educated professor of literature would expect a future classic to be written.  It may or may not appeal to the masses, but I can only hope that if I am comfortable writing it, then others will be just as at home reading what I’ve written.

Have you noticed an evolution in your own writing?  What about your voice – how has it changed (if at all) throughout your writing experience?  Please share; I’d love to hear about your own experiences!

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8 thoughts on “Changing Voice

  1. jpcabit September 10, 2010 / 7:59 AM

    I used to jump from voice to voice. But really, over the past year, my voice has really been cemented down. It’s now been whittled to a sort of quirky, jocular, casual, conversational tone. I’m really fond of it. My buddies complained that my old style was “Really boring, like a textbook.” I took it to heart, scrapped my 30,000-word manuscript, and started again with a tweak. Now, rather than reading like a textbook, it reads like a conversation with a good friend. Anyhow, that’s my story.

    • jannatwrites September 10, 2010 / 8:15 PM

      I’m glad I’m not the only one that’s had to tinker with voice. Great story! At least you had friends honest enough to tell you the truth and you had the courage to embrace it. Good luck!

  2. Smander September 10, 2010 / 9:22 PM

    I dont know if my voice has changed but I certainly used to self-cencor a lot and now I am learning to let myself go with the flow. I guess in this way my voice is more sincere

    • jannatwrites September 10, 2010 / 9:53 PM

      Sincerity is a good thing! Sometimes it’s hard to let it completely go, but I’m glad you’re going there.

  3. Ollin September 11, 2010 / 12:06 PM

    I’ve been thinking about this recently. I am very close to finding my voice. What I have been able to find for sure is what my voice is NOT.

    I totally feel you when you say writer’s tend to copy other writer’s voices. And that in High School in College I always wrote what I thought my teachers or professors wanted to read, and they usually reinforced this stilted academic writing. Some of that strained writing made it into my novel, and I noticed that recently. I feel sometimes we writers take writing too seriously and try to sound as “perfect” as the authors we admire, but it ends up coming out stuffy, ingenue, and an all out mess.

    I love the way you describe your voice as a letter to a friend. I’m finding that my voice is like me telling a story to my little nephews (I don’t have one now, but I have imagined ones, lol). So that means I focus more on the story, more on the fun aspects of it, the wonder, the magic, the whimsy, the exhilaration, and the suspense.

    Great post!

    • jannatwrites September 11, 2010 / 10:15 PM

      Hi, Ollin. Thanks for stopping by 🙂 I’m glad you’re finding your novel voice. It is a (sometimes frustrating) process, for sure – good thing you have imaginary nephews to help you get there! Whatever works, right? I do agree that the result of not finding our voice is an “all out mess”, but our awareness of the issue can help us avoid this downfall.

  4. Barb September 14, 2010 / 8:20 AM

    Definitely evolution in my case! I can’t even look at what I wrote in the first 25 years! 😉 Just kidding, but lately I’m changing, and very fast, and it shows also in my writing voice, and not only because I switched languages. Sometimes even the stories I used to write don’t mean anything to me anymore. Other times I want to rewrite them with my new voice. But there are so many that I have to make priority lists! 😦 And I’d also want to try something new… talk about being busy writing! 😉 (and I’ve tackled most kinds of writing – screenplays, poems, prose, short stories, novels, comics, graphic novels, plays…)

    • jannatwrites September 15, 2010 / 6:19 AM

      You are a very busy writer! It’s kind of nice to know that the changing and growing can go own for many years. Thanks for sharing your story, Barb!

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