Every writer has a "voice." It's a unique signature that combines the use of diction, punctuation, and syntax. In fiction, it also includes having a specific dialogue style and character development. In non-fiction, "voice" generally refers to a distinctive viewpoint, framework, and paradigm.
What is an author's "voice" anyway?
Is this "voice" identical with writing style? How can a new writer cultivate his or her own unique voice? If you already have an author's voice, what can you do to polish it and take it to the next level?
You probably know that Robert Galbraith is J.K. Rowling. This super-talented author has proven that she was able to fool even the most experienced editors to think that Robert Galbraith was a man by using a different voice.
If you write non-fiction works, the foundation of a good author's voice is sounding honest, believable, and authoritative. Your perspective could be something that the readers are already familiar with or not.
As an author, when you've just started out, you probably only have one voice: your own internal speech patterns. You can observe non-writers when they write and you'll be surprised to see theirs.
For example, those who've just finished college are likely to write in a more educated tone as they're used to writing university essays and papers for at least three years. And it's distinguished from others who didn't graduate from college or grad school, as they tend to write in everyday tone.
Fiction writers have the option to write in a variety of tones, depending on the characters' backgrounds. For instance, if the character is a teenager, you can use slang words and phrases that youngsters communicate with. If the character is an introvert, you can use a well-structured narration steadily and consistently.
Depending on the mastery of the skills in manipulating an author's voice, it's possible for a writer to have several voices. However, like fingerprints, under a forensic linguistic investigator, someone's voice is incredibly unique, and there are subconscious elements that are projected outward. These can't be erased or cloaked with superficial stylistic variables.
An author's voice isn't writing style
A "voice" is like your fingerprints. It's your personality in writing that sets you apart from other writers' works. However, style is much broader than voice.
For instance, when you write for a specific magazine, you'd be required to study the writing style before you start writing for them. The editor demands all writers follow the house style. This means that specific word choices such as whether to use "autumn" or "fall", hyphenating certain words and aiming at a certain reading level may be chosen for you to ensure consistency across the publication. However, each writer has the liberty to use their unique voice within this style.
Thus, style is more about who you're writing for, while your voice is about who you are. You can change styles depending on the publications and audiences you write for. However, your voice is yours forever.
As a new writer, can you cultivate your own unique voice? Certainly! Here's how to do it:
1. Know your voice
How does your voice sound? Or, read? Do you have a straightforward, courageous, and inspiring voice? Read your works aloud and listen carefully. Also, ask objective critics to read them and describe their impressions.
Whatever your voice is, acknowledge it. You can work to change it for the better consciously or organically as you mature as a writer. Remember, the key to progress is realizing your potential both as a writer and an individual.
2. Free your voice
Yes, liberate your inner voice, which means free your thoughts and ideas. Don't let any stylistic guidelines hinder you from expressing your inner voice.
Many writers, including me, have the so-called "mental block." Whenever we must write about something unfamiliar, we're scared and have some reservations. After all, we don't want to be called an "impostor." Impostor syndrome is something that most writers must learn to rid themselves of gradually.
3. Read other authors' works
Read the authors of various genres. How does Ernest Hemingway's voice differ from Stephen King's? Why are they different regardless of their massive success? Do you think your own voice will eventually mature like theirs? Reflect on what you can do to make it happen.
4. Compare other authors' voices with yours
Is your voice similar to authors of the same genre? Why? Why not? Did you find any voice that you'd love to emulate? What is so impressive about it? Be open to analyzing your own voice and where it stands in the constellation of others.
Also, be aware of your own voice and stay true to it. You can change styles and even tone, but your voice is yours and yours alone. It makes your work unique.
How can you polish your voice?
To a certain extent, there is always room to grow. However, to remain authentic, keep your voice unique and be ready to be you. Only better.
If you admire a famous author, imagine him or her as your "virtual" mentor. What did they do to make their works so exemplary? Analyze their writing and implement their tricks in your future works.
But remember one thing: As much as you want to emulate them, you will have your own distinctive "fingerprint" voice that has been imprinted deep in your works. Because, after all, every written word is the result of an active mind. And each mind is 100 percent unique and independent.
Every one of us has our own distinctive voice. It makes us who we are. And as writers, our voices grow. We can use other authors' voices as our benchmark, but we'll remain within our boundaries as we're shaped by our backgrounds and genetics.
Continue to observe your own voice and cultivate ideas by reading other authors' works and experimenting. For sure, you'll see improvements in your voice and the quality of your work.