The Journal: Your Unique Voice

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Topic: Your Unique Voice, Part 1
* Of Interest

Quote of the Day

“There’s a certain slice of writer who bristles at any suggestion that their beautiful art won’t carry the day on its own.” Nathan Bransford

Topic: Your Unique Voice, Part 1

Yesterday in my post on critiques and critiquers, I briefly mentioned that there’s much to be said for maintaining your unique, original authorial voice.

Difficult as you might find this to believe, any reader is much more likely to enjoy your work and buy more of your books if you remain true to your own unique voice.

Consider, your authorial voice is particular to you. Some other voices more than likely are similar to yours, but nobody else has your authorial voice. And that’s the “unique, original voice” every agent and publisher in the world is looking for.

But after agents and publishers say they’re looking for the next “unique, original voice,” they go all wrong-headed and insist that you rewrite your work to make it “better.” (Uh, no. More on this later.) The problem is, agents and publishers attended the same schools we all attended.

In those schools, our well-meaning teachers, who had little or no experience writing fiction themselves, taught us that writing fiction is hard, and that it’s supposed to be hard.

Furthermore, they reinforced the collective human inferiority complex, that we are not capable, and taught us to mistrust and stifle our creative subconscious. And the indoctrination into the myths began.

They taught that if we wanted to be successful as fiction writers, we had to engage the conscious, critical mind in that creative endeavor: we had to outline, then write, invite critiques, revise, rewrite, polish and finally submit.

Look at that list again. Only one part of it has anything whatsoever to do with creating something new, unique and original: write. Or as Robert A. Heinlein wrote in Heinlein’s Rules, if you want to be a writer, “1. You must write.”

Notice that in his Rules, Heinlein didn’t mention outlining, inviting critiques, revising, or polishing. And in Rule 3 the great man addresses rewriting: “Do not rewrite except to editorial order.” In later years, Harlan Ellison added, “And then only if you agree.”

But thanks to the wonderful world of publishing today, we no longer have to go through acquisitions editors or any other gatekeepers in order to get our work out to readers. So there can be no “editorial order.” We have only to write and publish.

Much as I admired and respected my teachers in most ways, taking advice on writing fiction from a person who never wrote fiction is a little like taking legal advice from plumber or plumbing advice from an attorney. For advice on writing fiction, I’d rather turn to Heinlein. Or to Asimov, Bradbury, King, Child, Burke, Dean Wesley Smith or any other successful, prolific professional writer. Duh.

So what makes up your unique authorial voice?

Your unique voice is the result of word choice and juxtaposition and even spelling sometimes (“strainge” carries a different connotation than “strange”). It’s forced pauses and how often and where they’re placed (as indicated by punctuation).

It’s sentence structure, repetition or the lack of repetition of various elements (types of words, sentences, paragraphs, etc.), and your narrative style, which even takes into account your current skill level: for example, whether every word of the story comes through the POV character (advanced writer) or through the author (beginning writer) or somewhere in between.

Your authorial voice also contains your life experiences, good and bad, and they form the filter through which it flows. It is your characters, their voices, your fictional world and how you build it, and dozens or maybe hundreds more aspects that make up the unique way YOU tell a story.

The good thing is, your authorial voice is unique and original to you specifically because it’s natural. You don’t have to work at it. Your voice is as good as it can be at your current skill level when it spills out onto the page or screen.

How do you improve your original, unique authorial voice?

Well, by studying techniques you don’t already have in your tool kit. Certainly, listen to lectures and workshops and read craft books as presented by successful fiction writers.

You can also allow your creative subconscious to absorb Story. (In fact, you can’t stop it.) Watch smart dramas and comedies on television. Read your favorite authors (for pleasure). And yes, their style will inform yours in small ways, but it certainly won’t replace or taint your style in any sort of bad way.

You can also study and learn (conscious, critical mind) from your favorite authors.

First, as above, it’s important to read the whole story for pleasure. Other events later in the story might affect or be affected by the part that impressed you. But when a passage blows you away, quickly mark that passage and move on.

Then, after you’ve read the whole story, go back and study the places you marked to try to understand how the writer created that particular effect in you. Word choice or juxtaposition (the body electric vs. the electric body)? Punctuation? Brevity or a long, emotion-laden sentence?

Okay, those are a few ways to improve your natural storytelling ability, your natural, unique authorial voice. But earlier I wrote that your voice is unique and original to you because it’s natural, that you don’t have to work at it.

You only have to relax and let it flow, right? So how do you do that?

The answer is both ridiculously easy for some and incredibly difficult or even impossible for others. I can tell you what’s required in five words: You have to Trust yourself.

Realizing the truth of that simple statement is easy enough. But for many, actually applying it is a completely different matter. How to apply it successfully will be the topic of discussion next time in Part 2.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “No Guts, No Glory” at Wow. This is chock full of writer self-doubt. This touches on a lot of the myths, directly and indirectly. I could only shake my head.

See “The History of Book Banning” at Especially read PG’s take.

See “Essential computer skills for writers” at Also see PG’s comments.

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.

2 thoughts on “The Journal: Your Unique Voice”

  1. I am considering a PR person. The first red flag: she talked about getting an editor, changing covers…

    Without even reading. (She said she likes to go in with no preconceptions with new people.)

    I have mild hopes she might be useful after reading, and I may or may not be open to changes about covers (yes, I know they’re important). But there will be no editor.

    • Agreed. A good copyeditor can be worth his/her weight in gold, but beyond that, nope. And if you have a working knowledge of grammar, syntax and punctuation, really all you need is a good first reader or two to point out inconsistencies and/or errors (wrong words, spelling, etc.).

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