Do you hear voices in your head? Well, if you want to write well, that might be a good thing! Today’s lesson deals with VOICE! Voice is the way your words SOUND on a page. With a piano, you plink around on the keys and you Hear what you play. My son plays the trumpet…and boy, oh boy! do I hear the trumpet’s voice (it’s kind of hard not to).
But on the written page, even if you aren’t speaking aloud, there’s a SOUND that words all strung together make. This is the writer’s VOICE, and it’s amazing! There are all sorts of voices in literature, and finding your own can be daunting.
Finding your own voice as a writer is in some ways like the tricky business of becoming an adult…you try on other people’s personalities for size and you fall in love. A. Alvarez
So go ahead and try on other people’s voices. Think of it as Writing Trick or Treat! Grab a costume of another voice completely different than your own, and write as if you were them!
If you decide to be the Big Bad Wolf, you might write: “Little Pig, Little Pig, Let me in! Or I’ll huff and puff and sneeze your house down!” (Read the True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by A. Wolf as told to Jon Scieszka; the wolf was really framed!).
A good way to develop your own voice is to write a LOT. Keep a journal. Keep a notebook in your purse, or if you’re a man, your back pocket so it rips out eventually. Write about everything that happens to you and the thoughts in your head. Writing about your views is good voice practice; it forces you to think of new things to say and ways to say them.
Voice doesn’t come without a lot of hard work…so work hard! You have to go deep inside to find your real voice, the one that hides inside you, taunting you at times with peeks that it exists, then hiding again and driving you to hit your head against the remote control and change the channel as your husband is watching a football game.
You have to get the Gold Rush mentality and be willing to mine for gold (this is much more fun than searching for nuggets of gold among the buffalo poop—see Lesson 2). It’s like telling a friend a story. Don’t stop to think it out…just tell what happened. Catch your butterflies and hurry and pin them on the draft board as naturally as you can. When you start to worry about the way you’re going to sound, you quickly lose your voice.
Here are some things to ask yourself:
- What’s your personal writing style? Funny, romantic, gushy, poetic, boring (just kidding), upbeat, depressing (please say no), straightforward, technical, literary?
- Do you write your mind, or are your words over-polite and politically correct? Is it stilted? Does it flow? Do you sound like YOU?
- Do all your sentences sound the same? Are they varied?
- Do you have favorite words or phrases that you repeat often? (Um is mine!) Can you find alternatives? (how ‘bout Erm?)
“…no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
Listen to language. Study how people talk, note the flavor of different idioms, record bits of conversation, wander around in the dictionary, and push the word butterflies around on your page. The most important thing to remember is to just be yourself. If you are, you’re doing something right and magical things will happen.
It’s fun to go into the costumes of others and pretend to be them as you write…but it’s also fun to pretend to be yourself. I didn’t mess up on the wording there. As a novice writer, believe you me, at first you will pretend to be yourself. It takes time and a lot of writing before you begin to find your TRUE VOICE and see who you really are in words. At first you might sound stilted and lame (I know I did) or preachy and fame (rhyme…hee hee), but eventually you’ll get it—Yourself, that is. Have fun…and don’t worry when you hear voices! Write down what they say.