The moment I discovered voice, I loved it. What’s not to love? You can change everything about a piece just by changing the voice.
You’re the narrator. You control the voice. Who do you want to be?
Is your narrator a sophisticated, elderly gentleman? Is he a spastic kid with the attention span of a sparrow who can’t seem to keep the words from tumbling out of his mouth right on top of each other and also he’s kind of spastic? Is she a deep, mature soul-searcher whose long soliloquies and profound reflections amount to the very essence of nothing? Or is she a dry, sarcastic cynic writing with one eyebrow raised, just waiting to pounce on said soul-searcher?
The world is your clam, my friends. (Oysters aren’t the only mollusks to produce pearls, you know. So do clams, scallops, and mussels. And also sea snails. The world is your sea snail. See, it works just as well.)
Exploring Your Clam
If you’re reading like you should be (that is, lots), then you should have a steady stream of voice inspiration. Every strong author has a strong voice.
So how do you write with a strong voice? You have to practice. And sometimes the best place to start practicing is by copying.
When I was in eighth grade, my mom had me write Aesop’s fables in the styles of different authors–Charles Dickens, Hans Christian Anderson, and Uncle Remus.
I loved it.
I was always a little English/literature/writing nerd, but this–this I really loved. It’s a great place to get started with studying voice.
Pick up the book you’re reading. If you haven’t been paying attention to the author’s voice, start. Get a feel for it, and then re-write a fairytale or fable in that voice.
Can you capture it? Can you imitate the narrator’s dryness or his silliness or his mystery?
Get to know different authors and their different voices. Also, get to know how authors convey their specific voices–how they use mood, dialogue, and stylistic devices to write in ways unique to them.
Not only is this beneficial, but it’s fun. It’s like laughter or eating chocolate.
Polishing Your Pearl
Copying other people’s voices is all well and good, but if you can’t find your own voice, there’s not much point.
By studying and imitating the voices of different authors, you gain a stronger understanding of what voice is, what different voices sound like, and how to convey a certain voice. The benefit of this is that you can see what kind of voice feels more natural to you.
Do you fall right into a dry, cynical voice but struggle to write with a light, silly one? Probably, your own voice is closer to the dry, cynical side.
So how do you strengthen your UNIQUE voice?
Yes, my friends, like everything that has anything to do with writing, the best way to get better at it is to write.
Voice, however, is fun to practice with. It’s very enjoyable. All you do is sit down and write–you don’t have to plan or think ahead or even work that hard. Just write little pieces. Write about a girl with blue eyes. Write about that tree outside your window. Write about what Johnny Newcome would do if his house caught on fire. (Who’s Johnny Newcome? Write about it.)
Also, you don’t necessarily have to limit yourself to one voice. You might have a sophisticated voice and a casual voice, a relaxed voice and an excited voice. Great! Write with all of them.
One of the best things about writing is that you can do anything you want. You can do anything, make anything, be anyone.
Voice is the “be anyone” part.
So go exercise your voice, my friend.
Go be anyone.