Nov 18

What Is Your Voice And How Do You Express It?

Some writers spend years finding their voices, finding their points of view in their writing. Too often it’s the voice of successful, classical writers English literature courses key in on. New writers who spend years trying to emulate the voices of their favorite writer are squandering their time and effort.

You already have a voice — a point of view — a way of looking at the world. You use that voice every time you express yourself orally you’re using that voice. The problem comes when you try to put those feelings, that humor, that sarcasm, that sense of honor, the ethics, the faith, and the passion you feel down on the page.

Your voice is there, but it’s difficult to express when you tie it up in all the structure of plot, the dialogue of characters, and especially description where you might find yourself leaning on dictionaries and a thesaurus you never apply to your speech. Remember, too, that when you speak, more than half of your oral communication involves facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures and body language. You’re losing all that when all you have is the printed page.

What happens is that writers forget their own voices when it comes to description and plot. Here’s a suggestion, think of yourself as a character telling your story. That character has a particular vocabulary, certain points of reference both historically and culturally. Think about how that character would express him/herself when telling this tale.

Too much proper English, a lack of contractions, and too much self imposed grammatical restraints which might not be true for your character hold your character and your voice in check.

In the old Lone Ranger radio series introduced on station WXYZ in Detroit in 1933, the creator George W. Trendle the station owner and writer Fran Stryker made a point of distinguishing the Lone Ranger by never having him use anything but proper English — no contractions — no incomplete sentences.   That’s counter to one of the most basic goals of general broadcasting — to use contractions to sound conversational. While this did make the “masked man” unique on the show, it isn’t now, nor was it then, realistic.

Language evolves — if it’s a living language. Latin has specific rules, and we know not only what those rules are but how to write and even speak it according to the rules. But remember, starting sentences with conjunctions (like this one) is the way we naturally speak. In fact, true human speech is composed of run-on sentences, ellipsises, where words and phrases are intentionally left out because we know the audience knows the rest of it without our having to say it — partial and incomplete sentences, words and phrases which are emphasized which we represent in print by such techniques as underlining, setting something off in quotes, and/or using italics or BOLD type.

This is also true with modern writing. We accept it without hesitation in poetry and song lyrics.

What if one character said to another, “PMS alert!”

We all know that someone is rightly or wrongly saying that another character is very moody and apt to flip out over anything said or done. It says, “Be careful! Walk on egg shells and be on your best behavior.”

How would your writer — the character you’ve created in your head — describe the scene, another person, or a situation — how would this character speak?

Your voice is that writer/character — it’s you — the real you. Mostly it’s unfiltered, raw, and true to the way that writer/character sees the world. And that’s a hell of a lot more interesting than something totally grammatically and literally proper.

If you need to, write naked. ;-0

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