Can You Pick Your Writing Voice?

Can You Pick Your Writing Voice?
Image provided by Aaron Morgan
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I plunged into my weighty writing excursion in 2013. I’ve read article after article about all that’s entailed to hopefully writing a book with some sort of success.

One category of information pieces I came across early in my search for knowledge was centered around the writing voice. Several articles were advocating how to find, create and enrich this tone in a piece of writing.

I do understand why the word “voice” is used to describe the difference between one author’s work from another, even when both pieces are so similar, but there are some aspects about this element of the craft that I have a completely different perspective about.

First of all, I have grave doubts that the term, voice, adequately describes what this segment of writing is. I propose that the word to use be personality. This is what pops out to the reader when she or he dives into a book or some other written work. It’s even seen or felt with text books. Did a group of writers get together and decide on the term, voice, so they could feel superior to those of other careers? Were they telling people, “You need to have that special voice in order to be successful as a writer,”? If they had said, “You need to make your personality show in your work,” there’d probably be more people trying their hand at the craft. Let’s face it. Writing is speaking with seen words instead of ones heard. What a person says can tell another something about that person’s personality. The eminence of writing isn’t there when using the term, personality, for the simple reason everyone has a personality. Writing loses some of its lofty stature.

With the term being changed, a writer doesn’t have to find this element in her or his writing. Whatever that person writes is going to reek of her or his charm, nature, self, et etcetera. It just can’t be helped.

Creating a personality exclusively for writing? Can this be done? Possibly. I mean, the nicest of people who are actors will take on the roles of villains–and be successful at it. The most prude of actors will get in front of a camera and act unbelievably slutty. Still, it only makes sense that the basic psyche of the actor will shine through despite the personae she or he is portraying in the film or play. I assume the same is with writers. In my current WiP, my main character isn’t what someone would call a heroine. She a little off the wall and has some serious mental issues–the kind that create problems for others. Still, because I’m the one writing this character, my personality will be seen in her even though I’m not the type to let my problems get into the lives of others so rashly and without any concern.

I do think an author can enrich their personality for what is shown of her or him in writing. All human being change through the course of their lives. No one is exempt from this. What we learn through life’s experiences change us constantly, either for the better or the worse, depending on our perception of all these instances. This is one area where we can choose the angle in which we receive all this knowledge and how we will use it in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.

Does the basic personality change? I don’t think this is possible. However, I think the personality can expand and what was once an important aspect of it can switch to a smaller piece of the pie. As our knowledge increases, segments of importance shift.

With this in mind, I question the amount of ability we have to enrich our writing personality. We might just have to go more with the flow of how we change over time, both in our lives and in our writing.

All in all, no, I don’t think a writing can pick her or his writing voice. We can only accentuate certain qualities and diminish others. Even then, I don’t think we can be totally successful.

§

“Be yourself. Above all, let who you are, what you are, what you believe, shine through every sentence you write, every piece you finish.” ~ John Jakes

 

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26 Replies to “Can You Pick Your Writing Voice?”

  1. Interesting, Glynis, that I used to explain voice to my students — because it was one of the attributes by which their writing on the state-required exam would be judged — I told them it meant letting their personality show in their writing the way it does when they talk to their friends. I’d then read samples from authors and we’d talk about what kind of personality we thought they had. It seemed to help their understanding of what was meant by voice, and, sometimes, their application of that understanding.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. As a teacher, you weren’t trying to exclude anyone from the craft and, instead, trying to encourage. Bravo! Although I took numerous writing classes, I was never taught about “voice”. I’m not sure if it was a case of not the right courses, not the right teachers, or the term wasn’t used back then.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This is an interesting post. A few minutes ago I was reading another post on “which voices to avoid.” Perhaps it’s a day for introspection. I think you can extend your personality into the realms in which you imagine yourself acting. You know, you as the superhero, you as the damsel in distress, you as the teacher/preacher/doctor/ etc. but I think all of those will carry elements of your personality to the surface.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I would think that’s up to the author. If the writer wants to portray the character as a psychopath is a love scene, who am I to argue? Being a writer entails the responsibility of total freedom.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. From what I’ve read, which is probably limited, style has to do with aspects of how the piece is written–humorous, serious, wordy, short or to the point, et cetera. Voice is more about the unique perspective of the piece that can only be attributed to that specific author. I do think they’re connected but the style is more general or generic. Several writer can have the same general style, yet their voices will be quite different.

      Anyway, that’s what I’m understanding from the articles I’ve read. I could be way off.

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  3. Glynis, I think that we can alter our “voice” to suit the audience in the same manner we interact with different groups of people. I also think that the core of our writing voice will show up at some point no matter how much we try to alter it. This is an interesting read.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, what you say is true. The term “voice” still stucks in my craw. I still think the word should be “personality”. Although that would take a small piece the specialness out of the craft.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is an interesting essay in a topic not often mentioned. I agree with you, Glynis that your voice, is just that, yours. However it can be developed, enriched and through experienced grow even stronger, richer. I have read some authors whose voice to start with was unsure, hesitant but over the course of a few books really deepened and thrived in their knowledge much to the joy of the readers. You’ve given us a lot to think about here.

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    1. Yes Annika, it can be enriched, but the basic bones of it cannot be changed. Many novice writers have it in their heads that they can change the personality they use in their writing. They are gravely mistaken though. As you pointed out, it can be strengthened and even expanded, but the bare voice is still the same.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think John is right–just be yourself. Which is a lot harder than it sounds. We have been told since we were children to abide by cultural norms, be polite, hold our tongue. Now, as writers, we’re supposed to followed our true self. Not an easy task!

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    1. The cultural norms–don’t speak during church or temple service, whisper in auditoriums, don’t swear, smile when you meet someone, et cetera, can drive you looney, can’t they? Despite being brought up in the 1950s and 1960s, I was taught to speak my mind. Of course, always with respect, but I was allowed to voice my opinions–all the time. I was brought up by progressive parents is what I’m told. I know I’m odd though.

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  6. “I do think an author can enrich their personality for what is shown of her or him in writing. All human being change through the course of their lives. No one is exempt from this. What we learn through life’s experiences change us constantly, either for the better or the worse, depending on our perception of all these instances.”

    This is spot on, Glynis. Everything in writing and in life is mutable. Some years ago my voice was that of a deranged and snarky person because that was who I was back then, but now that I’ve mellowed out and become more patient, my voice is less frantic. I agree with you that the voice is essentially one’s personality. As a writer changes as a person, this will shine through in the words they churn out. Therefore, the exercise of finding one’s voice could simply an exercise in being confident enough to express yourself fully and honestly. I think finding your voice is something we never own, but are always pursuing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, exactly. We are in pursuit of our writing voice. We may have our personality set even for an entire book, yet before we get through the draft of the next, it changes because of a life experience.

      So glad you found time to stop by. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Voice will vary by genre and audience, plus it’s influenced by all the other elements of craft as well. For some writers it might not be as flexible, and for others, they can shift voices like a chameleon. Voice in personal essays does come down to infusing a piece with a bit of one’s personality. In fiction, though, drastically different characters will require drastically different voices. Also, the voice I use for my editing blog is a far cry from the voice I use when writing creative fiction and nonfiction. This is indeed a great topic that has give me lots of ponder. Then there’s also the rhetorical triangle, but that gets really boring to talk about 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So you don’t think it’s the writer’s personality? I think of how actors play different roles, yet somehow their personalities still shine through. Tom Hanks did that marvelous performance with no other actor to help in Cast Away. Tom Cruz could have played the part using the same exact lines and the movie would have changed drastically. As writers, don’t we play these parts on paper? My voice is bound to be different than yours.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Voice is and isn’t the writer’s personality. If I write angry, that will be reflected in my writing voice. I can go back and tweak to play up or tone down the anger. Voice can vary drastically between various writers or be somewhat similar, which is why many authors say they won’t read books by certain authors as they write.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Because everything we get across has to come through the medium of words on the page, voice is a useful concept. I used to teach beginning writing classes, and I’ve seen writers whose skills weren’t polished enough yet to create a voice that would convey either their own personalities or those of the characters they wanted to bring to life. Learning to sound like yourself on the page looks easy once you’ve learned to do it, but can be the work of years. A few people do it naturally, from the start, but I’d guess that most have to work at it. I spent time listening to my own spoken voice and looking for ways to translate that onto the page.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True, trying to express on paper the way you do when talking is a learned skill. As soon as I stopped thinking of it as a voice and began to think in terms of personality, mine in particular, it became easier. I have what I been told is an “open” personality. More of a “what you see is what you get” type. Knowing this let me express myself more simply on paper.

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