Friday, 3 February 2012

VOICE – An Author’s Way of Telling a Story

After my take on character arc and plot structure last week, I am back to my article on voice. When I attended my first creative writing class during my BA in English Studies, we first discussed the writing styles of different writers as well as the artistic licence writers can take on traditional text forms. However, when it came to writing our own texts, we were told to find our own style. I believe one of my university colleagues and I formulated it best during one of our literature rants:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single writer in possession of a great plot idea, must be in want of a voice to tell it to the world. So get your pen and start!”

While we freely borrowed from Jane Austen, it was to the point. Jane Austen had an iconic writing style and we had been told more than once to get to it and find our own voice. Of course, initially we were stumped. How do you go about finding your voice? I mean in reality it seems like you just open your mouth and there it is, yet I was unsure of my voice on paper. What were the elements that made up a great voice? What was the first step to developing a good writing voice?

Given my love for a plan of action, I searched for a manual that would guide me through the process of developing a voice, but the only thing I got to hear was that I had to do it on my own. Now, years later, I understand that there is no single way to finding your voice as a writer and it doesn’t end or begin with an epiphany telling you ‘This is your voice’. There is no homogenous manual which will tell you what the first, second or even the last step will be for you before you find your writer’s voice. Like your own personality takes shape over time and shifts as you experience new aspects of life, your voice as a writer gradually develops through writing.

Wikipedia defines a writer’s voice as “the literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author. Voice was generally considered to be a combination of a writer's use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works).”

As a budding writer, you might have a natural talent for character development or dialogue, but you usually stick to the grammatically prescribed rules of syntax and punctuation. However, once you have confidence in yourself as a writer, you will recognise patterns, challenge yourself to overcome bad habits, dare yourself to try something different with your voice and start playing with grammatical parameters. These small elements will make your writing style unique. They will become corner stones of your voice. Your best bet to finding your own voice as a writer is to write. In the last ten years I have written texts in a number of text styles and genres, I even tried my hand at poetry not too long ago. (It took me about four hours before I was happy with the end result!)

Writing different stories, receiving feedback, reading texts from various genres and your own life experience will teach you about character development and dialogue. Constructive criticism and positive feedback will give you the courage to try yourself out. And in the end it will be you who decides whether the style and tone of your writing is authentic or not. After all, whether an author’s style is considered good or bad is a matter of individual preference. Readers are as diverse in their tastes as the authors which bring their thoughts to life on paper.

That does, however, not mean that there are not marks of quality for a well-written piece. Correct spelling, coherence, fluidity, choice of register and content will still play a role.

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