By the time I got to the fifth draft for my first novel, it was done and dusted. Ready for the printer. But for this one, not so much. I keep on justifying this to myself. I couldn’t get the character balance right. I hated the main character so I rewrote him. Then I lost him. Then I had to find him again. Then there was this other character vying for attention. The major plot points stayed the same but there was something wrong.
It all came down to voice. When I started studying the subject of communication, voice was a foreign thing to me. My association with ‘voice’ was around actual vocals – you know the thing that you lose when the sound guy resists your nagging for your microphone to be turned up. My other association was to do with free speech. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Lose what? Your ability to have a voice.
But with writing it is something different. Finding your voice in writing is tricky. You’ve obviously put pen to paper, or fingers to keys, because you have something to say. The content isn’t really the issue. It is the way you convey it. But your writing voice needs to be developed and honed. It doesn’t come naturally to many.
So how do you find your voice? I don’t know all the answers to this one, but I do have some suggestions. These are the ones that helped me.
1. Blog. This will help you get in the flow of writing. It’s short format so you don’t have to stress and strive to come up with content. You can experiment with different things. You can post it all, or delete what you don’t like. But more importantly you get to practice.
2. Know who you are communicating with. If you are writing a blog, you can be informal. Hence, your voice can be informal. You don’t need to be grandiose or hyper-eloquent. You can just be you. I had a friend who struggled with this so I suggested to her that all she needed was a Dictaphone or a voice recorder app. She could speak, dump her content and then listen back and copy it down. Yes, its a long way around but it made her realise what her voice sounded like, and how she could write it. (It’s amazing how we can over-think things and confuse ourselves.) I call this educational listening!
Of course you might not be writing a blog. If you are writing fiction, then voice becomes truly interesting. Unless you are writing using the authorial voice, you aren’t writing as you. You need to put yourself in character and understand who your narrator is. One of the reasons I got to draft seven before I found the right voice was because I didn’t have the right narrator. He/she doesn’t appear much in the manuscript, but I needed to understand a bit about who they were so I could see the world from their viewpoint.
Another project that I’ve been working on involved taking a medical concept and reinventing it for the layman. Gosh. Amazing stuff! The aim was to make it feel like the reader was sitting in a clinic having someone talk directly to them. So I had to find that voice. Personal. Professional. Trustworthy. All the content was there but if the voice was wrong, the reader would be bored, disengaged or overwhelmed. It’s that important.
3. Read, but do so looking for voice. I have to say that two of the most amazing pieces to read with an eye for voice are “Catch-22” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Incredible. In Catch 22, you laugh with the narrator when you feel like you should be crying. Then you find yourself crying. Its incredible. With One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, the beautiful, simple narrative provided by the character of ‘Chief Bromden’ allows you to feel like you are right in the action. You feel like you are looking out through his eyes. Ken Kesey did an amazing job constructing that. He could have been more eloquent. But that wouldn’t have captured the complexity of the story.
Voice is essential. Don’t worry about grammatical rules too much if voice demands you break them. Do worry about understanding your narrator. Do worry about knowing your audience and definitely practice! Good luck friends! Over and out.