Ways to Develop Your Unique Writing Voice

Ah, November. National Novel Writing Month. I can almost smell the fresh office supplies, the hint of double espresso and sugar drifting on the wind. The beginning of November is full of hope, promise and inspiration, but by week two?

….yeah.

I have been running a series on structure and sure structure has the obvious benefit of having a coherent plot/story at the end. But, there is another benefit to plotting that we often don’t think about. Voice.

Plotting ahead of time gives a newer writer an advantage that most people don’t think about. It gives us a playpen to contain our baby writing “voice.” Voice is one of those aspects of writing that is tough to define and quantify. Yet, it is at the heart of who we are as writers. The more we write, the more mature our writing voice becomes. Leave an immature, unformed voice to wander off on its own, and it will be wandering around getting into everything and making a mess.

We will get back to voice in a second…

In my opinion, there is a mistaken assumption that creativity is birthed by removing all boundaries. Just a blank page, a keyboard and your wildest imagination and GO! I disagree. I believe that limitations, boundaries, and constraints are necessary for creativity to thrive. Don’t believe me? Take a tour of Alcatraz. There are few people more creative than prison inmates.

On the positive side, if humans were born with the ability to fly, would we have invented such a vast array of flying machines? If we could communicate telepathically, would we have invented the telegraph, telephone, cell phone, or even e-mail? It is our inability to do something that focuses our energy and generates dynamic results. Light is wonderful, but when focused it becomes a laser.

An author’s voice is what defines his style. Dean Koontz has a distinctive voice when compared to John Grisham or even Amy Tan. Voice is defined by how we use words to convey imagery. I believe that when writers are new, most of us possess a voice that is in its infancy. I propose that this voice will develop more quickly if given boundaries. If an author will choose a genre, then whittle all the ideas whirling in her head down to one kernel idea, she will be closer to finding her unique writing voice than had she just started writing.

How is this?

The writer has erected boundaries that will focus her creative energy instead of letting it dissipate like white light.

Think of the preplanning for a novel as a series of lenses. You are going to shine the brilliant white light that makes up the whole of your creative capacity. Ah, but then we erect the genre lens. Genres have rules. Picking a genre will focus that white light creative energy. Then, the next lens is the one-sentence original idea. The energy focuses even more. With these two lenses, it will be harder for us to stray off on a tangent. Then, want another lens? Even a rudimentary plot outline will concentrate our energy even more. Finally? Detailed character backgrounds will add a final lens that permits us to take on that novel with all our energy at laser intensity.

When we are new, many of us have a lot of favorite authors. Our infant writing voice (tucked in its playpen to keep it out of the adverbs) is much like a baby learning to speak. It does a lot of mimicking. I find it humorous when I read first-time novels. I can read the prose and almost tell what author that writer was reading at the time he wrote the section. The voice is all over the place. That’s normal. When we are new, we are experimenting and looking for the influence(s) that will eventually take root and hold. The trick is to get past this stage.

So what are some ways we can develop our author voice?

1. Erect Boundaries

We just discussed this and it could wholly be my opinion. I believe that even pantser writers (those who write by the seat of their pants) will benefit enormously by erecting even broad constructs. You don’t have to outline down to the last detail, but a general idea of where you are going and the stops along the way are great.

Normally, around mid-way through Week Two of NaNo, I start seeing writers hit a wall. I can almost guarantee most of them just started free-writing without even a general plan, and now they’ve painted themselves in a literary corner. Been there, done that and have the collection of T-shirts…and coffee mugs. Their mind locks up and they have no idea what to say next. Not wanting to be “limited” by devices like an outline, in the end, they are “limited” by the word-prison created by failing to plan.

So how can a “limiting” device like an outline actually bring more freedom?

Think of it like taking a road trip. When you begin a trip, how you decide to travel makes a huge difference. If from the beginning, I decide my trip will be by car, as opposed to by plane, train, bicycle, roller skates, or pogo stick, I understand my limitations. By car, I cannot, for instance, go to Hawaii. Then, if I choose an end destination, there are only so many possible logical routes.

Say I am going to go to L.A. Well, from Dallas, TX, there are only so many highways that will get me there. Also, I know some routes are just a bad idea. I-20 East is not a consideration. So I know I want to take certain highways to L.A. Now my path is much clearer. Also, since I know the main highways I need to stay on, if, along the way I decide to amble down a country road (pantser) to visit the Alligator Farm and World’s Largest Ball of Dryer Lint, I know that I just have to be able to find my way back to the highway.

But what kind of trip do you think I might have if I just began driving? Sure, I might uncover some great places and have unplanned adventures….but those unplanned adventures might not be positive. They could involve getting lost in the projects, circling the same landmark 50 times, or having a flat tire in the desert.

2. Read, read, then read some more.

The best musicians study all kinds of music and then blend elements with their own unique style. That is a great parallel to how we develop our own writing voice. Read other writers. What do you like? Try it. What did you hate? Lose it. What could have worked, but didn’t ? Modify it. The more you read, the more hues of color you add to the pallet that you will use to define your voice. You will have more subtlety, nuance and dimension than a writer who doesn’t read.

3. Write, write, then write some more.

Put it to the test. Does a certain style work for you? Did it feel natural or forced? When did you hit your stride? Can you push it to another level? Practice, practice practice. Jimi Hendrix did not start out his music career playing Purple Haze. Elvis, Axel Rose and Meatloaf began as a gospel singers. Picasso began painting traditional subjects in traditional ways. All of these artists practiced and studied and added new elements until they created something genuinely unique.

Nanowrimo is a wonderful time to mix things up, try new styles, take on a genre you’ve always loved but maybe were too afraid to write. I once wrote a sci-fi fantasy. It isn’t my genre, but dabbling in something was exciting and fun and pushed me in new ways. The story ended up winning a major contest, and this was in a genre I didn’t even believe I could write! Trying new things strengthens those literary muscles, so be brave.

What are your thoughts on voice? Do you guys have a different definition? What are your experiences? Frustrations? Does your voice climb out of the playpen and cover the living room in Cheerios? Do you have some suggestions you’d like to add?

I do want to hear from you guys!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of November, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of October I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

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  1. #1 by taureanw on November 4, 2011 - 9:35 am

    Awesome post!!
    Later on today I’m going to link this post through my Twitter so my writing-buddies can check this out! Love posts like this one :-)

  2. #2 by Alice Fleury on November 4, 2011 - 9:48 am

    Applause, applause. Thank you. I think it’s the best post I’ve read anywhere in a while. Maybe because I’ve read about structure from so many pov’s including books, blogs, and random opinion. It supports planning, learning and writing. I believe its true what you say, we need boundaries. And yes it does work. Because finally, after two years of blindly moving in the dark, I have an outline, sort of. I have a premise. I have confidence I can write 50 to 60,000 words.

  3. #3 by Sabrina Alexander on November 4, 2011 - 9:54 am

    You’re great at forming analogies, but I suspect you know that ;-).

    I’m a pantser who learned the hard way that you are correct. I need limitations to see how far I can go. Once I bull my way through to figuring out who my characters are and what they want, I need to add the structure of a loose outline, then add layers later. It’s still very loose, but the structure does help me a lot.

  4. #4 by Jill Kemerer on November 4, 2011 - 9:57 am

    I’m a massive plotter (kind of sounds like massive serial killer, doesn’t it?). I agree with you on boundaries and road maps–they really free us to concentrate on the important parts of our stories without taking unnecessary side trips. The deeper I know my characters, the more my voice shines through.

    • #5 by Joanna Aislinn on November 4, 2011 - 3:40 pm

      Your reference to ‘massive serial killer’ reminded me of when I put up a #plotting column on Tweetdeck. Scary: the tweets I saw didn’t have much to do with writing books.

  5. #6 by Rachel A. Hanson on November 4, 2011 - 9:58 am

    Definitely a great post! I always read your posts, I just don’t usually comment :).

    I don’t typically create an outline like the ones I was assigned to create in High School. I hated them and I feel that creating something like that now would make me hate writing. What I do instead is to focus on an experience and let my voice flow within that experience. The book I’m working on for NaNoWriMo is entitled “Paisley Tines: Grade Nine” and it’s the diary of a girl that is in 9th grade. So the things that she talks about are things that a girl in 9th grade would write about in her diary. Her experiences are things that would happen in 9th grade.

  6. #7 by Ashley Prince on November 4, 2011 - 10:03 am

    “It is our inability to do something that focuses our energy and generates dynamic results.”

    I love this! It’s only day four of NaNoWriMo and I feel like I should have written out my outline. I have it in my head, but already it’s not going where it was supposed to go.

    I’m going to take some time to day and write out an outline then get back to my story.

    Thank you for such a great post. :)

  7. #8 by Jodi Aman on November 4, 2011 - 10:14 am

    I am planner. I never thought of creativity is freeing when there are limits, but this holds true in my life. I am so much more productive (I would say,”even though I am limited” but) because I am limited by time. I am overwhelmed by a blank page. I plan a long time in my head and jotting notes and recording thoughts on the fly. So I can hit the ground running when I sit down. I love the reference to Alcatraz.
    Love,
    Jodi Aman

  8. #9 by Piglet in Portugal on November 4, 2011 - 10:34 am

    If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times.

    and ?

    If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…plus buy my book “We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media” or/and “Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer” you get…

    I love your posts Kristen and always learn something new. So yes, I will be buying one of your books :)

    PiP

  9. #10 by Patti Mallett on November 4, 2011 - 10:44 am

    Thanks, Kristen. I’m gonna be thinking about this post today and figure out where I can put up a few boundaries.

  10. #11 by amyshojai on November 4, 2011 - 10:53 am

    Wonderful once again. Love the analogy to music, since I’m writing music again. Choosing instruments limits the piece–my writing software is very quick to point out that an F horn can’t play above a certain note, for instance.

    Come to think of it, writing prose and music are very similar in other ways. Solo (introspective) or ensemble (conversations between characters), the “voice” of the individual instruments/characters varies (or should!), and on and on. Thanks for a great post–I may need to pursue this a bit in a blog post of my own in the future. In my so-called free time, LOL!

  11. #12 by Marcy Kennedy on November 4, 2011 - 11:05 am

    Get tips as always :)

    In high school, my English teacher made us literally copy classical writers. We had to take the passage and write our own “imitation” right below. So, for example, if they had a string of adjectives, we had to have a string of adjectives in the same place. I hated it, and those were the worst grades I received in any English class. I wouldn’t recommend that as a form of imitation. I think it actually hurt more than helped. You’ve given a much more practical way to learn from successful writers.

  12. #13 by Joy Dent w/a Darcy Flynn on November 4, 2011 - 11:35 am

    Love this post! This and your recent ones on structure are helping me get through nano! I feel empowered! :)
    Thanks,
    Darcy

  13. #14 by Anne R. Allen on November 4, 2011 - 11:35 am

    Very interesting post. And I think you’re right. A writers organization I belong to has a flash fiction contest every year. They used to post a first line as a writing prompt–and every writer I knew would enter. Then the club decided not to “restrict creativity” so they simply post a general theme like “betrayal” or “nostalgia” and…they get half the entries. I certainly haven’t had a thought of entering. But back when they gave those crazy first lines, the wheels in my brain would start turning and I always came up with something. That “restriction” prompted the creative thinking.

    Thanks for this. It gives me one more reason to actually plot my next novel.

  14. #15 by Catherine Johnson on November 4, 2011 - 11:52 am

    I’m not even doing NaNo and I love this post. Agree with you about accidentally copying authors you like. I definitely did that a few years ago with James Patterson, except mine was a MG. Needless to say it jumped all over the place – yikes!

  15. #16 by Joelene Coleman on November 4, 2011 - 12:18 pm

    I look forward to your blogs. I own both your books and taken your classes. I’m still a panster, but like Less Nessman on WKRP in Cincinnati (boy I just told my age) I have “tape” outling my boundaries. I can step over them if I want, but find I do better if I “color within the lines.” Thanks Kristen for the needed break. Back to NaNo.

    • #17 by Author Kristen Lamb on November 4, 2011 - 1:15 pm

      I know Less Nessman…..yeah, showing my age, too LOL.

  16. #18 by Kara on November 4, 2011 - 12:19 pm

    I agree with the boundries. I have stumbled around in the dark for awhile and finally have focused on one genre. I tell myself that in the future I might branch out, but for now I need those boundries so I can write. I also, try to do more plotting. I’m not a detailed plotter, but I find if I can have a general outline I can write without going off track. Thanks for the post!

  17. #19 by Tamara LeBlanc on November 4, 2011 - 12:29 pm

    This quote, “It is our inability to do something that focuses our energy and generates dynamic results. Light is wonderful, but when focused it becomes a laser.” Is freaking fantastic!!
    Like many of the other commentors, I LOVE this post. And I feel this way not only because of the quotes, the 3 ways we can develop our authors voice, and your always relevant (and often adorable) pictures, but because you always find a way to make your point clear.
    I’ve never read one of your posts and went, “Huh? What the heck is she talking about?”
    In fact, after devouring every word I’m more likely to have a huge mega-watt bulb glowing over my head.
    Ding! Now I get it!!
    Anyhoo, I try to practice your 3 ways to develop voice, but I’ve fallen short in at least one. I shy away from reading. I know, I know, I should be tearing through a book a week at least, and I’ve got the time, it’s just that when I read, I usually get a good blow to my confidence.
    I recently read (or started to read) a book by Karina Cooper called Blood of the Wicked. A paranormal novel I thought would help mature my voice…but, um, it was so damn good that instead of getting inspiration, I stopped writing for a week because I was sure my work could never be that good. :(
    Luckily my crit partners talked me off a ledge, another full request from an agent came in off a partial and my husband brought me home flowers that day, so all in all, I’m ok now.
    But I haven’t touched another book since.
    I plan on bookmarking this post, rereading it and commiting those 3 points to memory.
    I think with your help I’ll be able to tackle the fears that hold me back.
    Thank you for your wisdom.
    Have a wonderful weekend!
    Tamara

  18. #20 by Karolyn Sherwood (@karolynsherwood) on November 4, 2011 - 12:36 pm

    I’m sure out there somewhere there are people so inherently talented that they get things right on their first attempt, i.e., beginner’s luck. But this post is very true for almost every creative field. Artists, musicians, dancers, writers, we all learn how to be ourselves by watching others—then weeding out what does and doesn’t feel right and creating our own success.

    Thanks again, Kristen, for another great post!

  19. #21 by Nancy J Nicholson on November 4, 2011 - 12:47 pm

    I’m a planner so your advice on read, read, and read along with write, write and write are the best advice for me. Thanks.

  20. #22 by Dolly Garland on November 4, 2011 - 1:20 pm

    This is a fantastic way to put across a concept of outline. While it would be nice to have a detailed outline, most of the time I end up with semi-outline. It’s been a while since I wrote without any plan, and i wouldn’t want to. That way lies madness!

  21. #23 by ChipperMuse (Michele) on November 4, 2011 - 2:02 pm

    Thanks as always for your great advice, Kristen. I particularly liked the part about being brave. Without courage, it’s hard to develop into a good writer, isn’t it?

  22. #24 by Jami Gold on November 4, 2011 - 2:03 pm

    Great post! In schools, teachers quickly learn that students write better when given some boundaries, the dreaded writing prompt. If a teacher hands them a blank page and says “go,” the students usually stare in horror at the intimidating blankness for the rest of the period. They don’t even know their Point A much less their Point B. It’s the prompts, the “write about the first time you experienced abc” instructions, that give the students a Point B to aim for.

    • #25 by Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson on November 4, 2011 - 11:49 pm

      Jami, that is why I lose them at week 10 when they hit the research paper. They don’t know how to get to point B. And it’s their job to figure it out. ;-) Thank goodness we have Kristen, eh? ;-)

  23. #26 by ashchristians on November 4, 2011 - 2:04 pm

    More great advice.

    I think voice is one of the hardest things to find. At the same time, I think a lot of people have a voice without realizing it while trying to have a particular voice.

  24. #27 by ChemistKen on November 4, 2011 - 2:09 pm

    One of the things I’ve learned while working on my first manuscript is that I’m a plotter. I need structure to keep me in line or I wander all over the place. Even when I plot very tightly, I find I have so much freedom to move around in that I can still get lost. Plotting does not limit your creativity.

  25. #28 by Tameri Etherton on November 4, 2011 - 2:16 pm

    Axl was a gospel singer? How did I never know this?

    I find I cannot read fantasy while I’m writing fantasy because I start swiping ideas. Not intentionally, but I’ll read through a scene and think, hmmm, this sounds awfully familiar. If I read fiction, that doesn’t happen.

    My first novel I took all the back roads and visited some crazy places, now I’m a pantser who has a roadmap. I might veer off, but I always know to get back on the plan. Boundaries are my friend. I like the tape metaphor ~ it’s there, but I can always step over it if I want.

  26. #29 by Joanna Aislinn on November 4, 2011 - 3:27 pm

    So much wonderful material to fire me up, but this quote really got my attention. “It is our inability to do something that focuses our energy and generates dynamic results. Light is wonderful, but when focused it becomes a laser.”

    Thanks, Kristen, for sharing from your incredible well of knowledge, and for making lol while I learn :)

    Uh…off of which interstate could I find that giant ball of lint?

  27. #30 by Prue on November 4, 2011 - 3:48 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this blogpost. Boundaries are so important in anything we do, not just writing. They were absolutely necessary in the work I used to do, working with people.

    As a budding writer, I’m aware of the need of boundaries which enable me to hack out some writing time most days of the week. Boundaries here go hand in hand with self-discipline.

    However, I think it’s important to consider the concept of flexible boundaries; flexible but not infinitely flexible. Boundaries are like fire: good servants but bad masters. Boundaries which are too rigid can be just as damaging as having no boundaries at all. It is important to strike a balance between the two.

    NaNo was good for doing what it did – it got me on my chair, in front of the computer. It also gave me the confidence to continue writing. Never, never did I think I’d do 50,000 words!

    However, after seeing the awful mess that resulted from totally pantsing, I will not do it again. I still do NaNo but with a few ideas in mind. I find that the freedom to write anything and not be concerned by whether it’s good, bad or indifferent is liberating. I don’t do this sort of writing a lot but it does have the effect of producing all sorts of ideas which don’t seem to come when I’m sitting still (or walking about) and thinking or letting my mind wander where it will.

    The actual act of writing seems to trigger ideas in a way I find enchanting :)
    Useful if I’m stuck when writing in a much more planned sort of way.

    So, I would hold out for a balanced approach with a small amount of pure pantsing mixed with a much more planned approach to writing.

    I laughed when I read the bit about being able to tell who a new writer was reading. When I first started, I did a page or two of pure Georgette Heyer. I wasn’t even trying to write like her! It was absolutely amazing. Other people read it and, without my saying anything, thought it was GH too :D

    I know I need to keep writing to find my voice. While reading, a writer’s voice should not get in the way but if I step back and analyse, I should be able to pick it out. Voice is an amazing attribute and probably not something it is possible to teach.

    Thanks for such a stimulating post.

  28. #31 by Reetta Raitanen on November 4, 2011 - 5:09 pm

    Beautiful and apt analogies about lenses and choosing the right highways for your story. I wonder if I’ll be able to pick from my writing who I’m emulating. Some similarities are there on purpose but it takes a while before the story starts coming out on my genuine voice. Or is that my character’s voice?
    It would be an interesting experience to try a totally new genre during some NaNoWriMo. Thriller, mystery and western would be the furthest genres for me.

  29. #32 by JoAnne Potter on November 4, 2011 - 5:17 pm

    This was great. The idea that what we cannot do creates a desire, a yearning, really struck a chord. No matter what I write, I keep coming back to a certain voice that seems to fit like my favorite jeans. That doesn’t mean it’s fully developed, but I think that, in the end, it’s me.

  30. #33 by Gloria Richard Author on November 4, 2011 - 7:42 pm

    Great post (as always), Kristen. I have two “practice” novels, an R.I.P. folder for snippets I loved but had to kill, numerous vignettes, several dead end novels, and–now–a WIP in which I’m emotionally and intellectually invested.

    I believe I’ve achieved those million words we’re told we have to write before we settle into our voice. One challenge is to stay true to my own voice when I read another author’s work. Another is to maintain unique voices for each character. Yet another is not to overplay shiny new rhetorical device baubles. I’ll always be a work-in-progress but craft courses from professionals continue to stock my toolbox. Thanks!

  31. #34 by Emma Burcart on November 4, 2011 - 7:43 pm

    Oh, how I wish you could have posted this two weeks ago! I just realized that boundaries and limitations really work for me. Unfortunately, it took several weekends of staring at the computer all day in frustration and wondering why writing is so much easier during the week for me to have the epiphany. So, I placed the same boundaries on my weekends. I now get up before dawn then, too, and write until the sun comes up. Then I stop and take a nap (It’s, like 8am). Then I get up and have the whole day ahead of me for fun. Those limits really help me. I know that my time is up with the sun, and the time feels special to me. Especially since no one else is awake.

    I realized somewhere in the middle of my first book that outlining works for me. And something in one of your books helped me realize that I write women’s fiction. From the day I proclaimed my self a women’s fiction writer something has changed. I have focus, my story is unfolding in amazing ways, and I was able to start a blog. Now I’m wondering what other limits and boundaries might help me? I hope I don’t have to wait for your next book to find out!

  32. #35 by tomwisk on November 4, 2011 - 8:39 pm

    Outstanding. You’ve formed a great argument against Zen writing, the stream of concious writing that has stories wandering all over the map. At first it sounds like a spiffy way to produce a story. The bad news is; you wind up gutting your masterpiece like a slaughtered hog. All you’ve got left is a pile of meat and extra parts you’re not too sure what to do with them. Outline and use it as a skeleton. You can flesh it out in rewrites.

  33. #36 by Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson on November 4, 2011 - 11:52 pm

    I am learning so much from your Warrior Writing Boot Camp. I can’t imagine ever writing something lengthy without boundaries in place ever again.

    Short stuff. Not problem, but a novel. Novels need ‘dem bones.

  34. #37 by Sarah Brabazon on November 5, 2011 - 6:09 am

    Kristen,
    I agree! By limiting myself to category romance, I am free of the requirement of dreaming up an original plot and structure. I am learning to tell an emotionally engaging story about characters that readers want to spend an hour or so with… Or that’s the theory.

  35. #38 by spyglassviewer on November 5, 2011 - 6:13 am

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post on finding a unique voice! I especially liked all the sciencey examples you threw into the mix to strengthen what you were teaching us today. :)

  36. #39 by tracikenworth on November 5, 2011 - 9:06 am

    Great post!! I think boundaries definitely need set when writing. I do a reverse outline. Do I stick to it? For the most part, but I do deviate here and there and that often makes the writing stronger as the characters take over. But I know if I get lost, the outline will point me in the right direction.

  37. #40 by Mary Ann Peden-Coviello on November 5, 2011 - 3:05 pm

    I’m a pantser, for the most part. I always know where I’m going and the high points of my story arc, though. So I guess I’ve been doing the boundary-setting already. Yay me for being smart! I always get something good from your posts. Every time.

  38. #41 by Sheila Claydon on November 6, 2011 - 2:38 am

    ‘First, find out what your hero wants. Then just follow him.’


    This quote by author Ray Bradbury is my guiding light when it comes to writing my books. I guess that makes me a bit of a panster but it doesn’t mean that my hero gets away with everything. He has to know what he wants and how he is going to get it, and who he is going to meet along the way. And because I mostly write romantic fiction, he has to know who he is going to fall in love with too. We do have quite a few arguments about all of that. The score is 50/50 at the moment!

    Kristen your posts are always a joy to read and your books are my social media Bibles. Without them my website wouldn’t be up and running. Thank you.

  39. #42 by Marilag Lubag on November 7, 2011 - 2:03 am

    To me, it’s easier to explore the writing voice if we are free to write what we want to write. Are we going to be all over the place? You bet. I think part of it is because we’re trying to imitate particular writers that give us that all over the place kind of voice. Another part is we just picked things up without realizing it.

    I believe we already have our unique voices though other writers (especially the ones we like) could influence us. It’s just a matter of being more confident with it.

  40. #43 by Sarah G on November 8, 2011 - 4:42 pm

    This article made a lot of sense to me, and I AM a pantser who has followed a number of roads just to see where they’d go. Having something to either resist or to guide me has often been a great help. I guess that’s why I love submitting to theme anthologies.

    First fifteen pages, eh? That means I need to write the first fifteen pages (as usual, I began in medias res). Hey, THERE’S a prompt…

  41. #44 by jonnygibbings on November 9, 2011 - 10:30 am

    You can actually give your novel a voice too. I like linear books, often bleak and pointless but funny. Chuck Palahnuik is a massive influence. By voice I mean alter your vocabulary. Trainspotting was a challenge yet fantastic because it was written in phonetic Scottish. You had to read it aloud to get it, till you were familiar with it. A clockwork Orange was the same, scattered with it’s own language that gave you a deeper more intimate relationship with the characters.

    Like John Travolta said, he can’t do a character until he has the walk right, and it builds up from there. My first book is scattered with deliberate errors in spelling and grammar. There is a warning about this in the beginning, but the idea is to give you a more voyeuristic interaction. As if you have found the diary of a drug ravaged, drunk man just clinging on. The book is very rude, very funny but draws depth as you stumble at elements such as ‘seen’ used instead of scene. So far, reviews have been good, other than one so far who hasn’t got it lol.

    Malice in Blunderland is meant to make you laugh at things you know you shouldn’t, shock you, irritate you etc. But, it’s voice is like a laser guided weapon, aimed at a very specific audience. That is what is so good with publishing today, be it traditional, digital etc – you can take risks with a fan base who will ‘get it’.

  42. #45 by Lady Gwendolynn on November 9, 2011 - 7:27 pm

    If my English teacher’s have taught me anything it was to do an outline first! I also did quite a bit of reading to help improve my voice and decided to even read ones I didn’t care for. I have definitely learned a LOT by doing this. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas on “Writer’s Voice”.

  43. #46 by diane e. dreyfus on November 9, 2011 - 10:20 pm

    How fun is this write up on NaNoWriMo!!!
    even the acronym turns a snappy pirouette..

    But, my voice is that of a curmudgeonly nonfiction writer, who efforts to sound accent-less and as bland as a newscaster.

    What you are up to looks like lot’s more fun than moving about so unobtrusively; as if a puppet master in a Banruku production. I hope you all enjoy yourselves in this frolicsome month… While you are doing the Jackson Pollock thing, I will be here tweezing facts onto a grid…

    Cheers.

  44. #47 by Amy on November 9, 2011 - 10:35 pm

    So you pegged me here: >>>”Normally, around mid-way through Week Two of NaNo, I start seeing writers hit a wall. I can almost guarantee most of them just started free-writing without even a general plan, and now they’ve painted themselves in a literary corner.”

    First time nano-er here. I started free-writing with no plan, and yes I have hit a wall. I have been thinking about pausing here to doing an outline, and probably will in order to pull it all together. But what is interesting is that I don’t think I could have started the whole NaNoWriMo process with an outline, simply because I honestly had no clue what I was doing or where I was going. The free writing gave me direction, and I began to see something forming…. it is a basis from which I now can create an outline. Maybe a backwards way to do it, but at the moment, its working.

    Thanks for the post – really good food for thought.

  45. #48 by Venusa on November 9, 2011 - 11:04 pm

    thanks so much for ur awesome post!! Very useful!

  46. #49 by Gilly Goldsworthy on November 10, 2011 - 1:55 am

    Lots of good solid advice here, thankyou, I’ll share with all my writerly friends.

  47. #50 by Emma Audsley on November 10, 2011 - 3:31 am

    I love this post! This is my main bugbear as a writer, I will definately try these tips out!

  48. #51 by Victoria Oldham on November 10, 2011 - 4:51 am

    I’m an editor, and I think you description of voice is the best one I’ve come across yet. It’s an intangible, something I can comment on when I see it, but something that is hard to pinpoint.

    I’m going to read lots of more of your posts! Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  49. #52 by pradyumnacster on November 10, 2011 - 6:54 am

    Great read.I have recently started writing and now I know why every time I stay writing,I end up lost in my own thoughts. Trying my hand on science fiction right now. hope it turns out well :)

  50. #53 by Marta Sofia on November 10, 2011 - 7:47 am

    Amazing advise! Really! I’m participating in NaNoWriMo and even tough I outlined the novel I still feel stuck. I wish I had read this before I started and maybe my outline would look a lot better. And doing a background on the characters would’ve helped a lot!
    Thanks for the great tips!

  51. #54 by jelillie on November 10, 2011 - 8:41 am

    Thank you. I am a first time novelist using this month to finish his novel. I plotted my novel out chapter by chpater before I began writing and now I feel like I did the right thing!

  52. #55 by noonebutabloghead on November 10, 2011 - 11:18 am

    Really interesting and useful advice. I’m going to be coming back to this blog, I think…

  53. #56 by pinay e-motion on November 10, 2011 - 8:06 pm

    Great post! Your point was not only well spoken, it was also spelled out clearly. Your pieces of advice will surely help me in my my attempt to further improve my writing. I love what you said about being brave. That push will definitely serve as my affirmation and inspiration to continue honing my craft. More power!

  54. #57 by Debra Kristi on November 13, 2011 - 1:29 pm

    I find I work best with “loose” outlines. I never know when my characters might change the game on me. I guess I would make me somewhat of a panster. But when I get stuck for words (not direction of story), I find opening a book and spending time with one of my favorite authors usually helps. No because I am stealing from their ideas, but because their way with word, their flow, inspires me and I can continue on with my own story. As always, thank you Kristen for your wonderful guidance.

  55. #58 by Deborah Taylor-French on November 14, 2011 - 3:23 pm

    Thanks for the rocking reminders!

    As a former dance artist, the old “Practice, practice, practice” comes back to my mind so often. And as a UCLA professor reminded us, “Don’t go back to dance class thinking you must go because of all your faults. Go because you’re keeping your craft alive.”

    Sharing now.

  56. #59 by Joe Duncko on November 15, 2011 - 10:01 pm

    I was always a “planner”. A good plan (that you are free to deviate from, of course) is a good basis for anything, including a novel. I know that if I didn’t have an outline for my novella, I would have never finished it. That alone is the best reason to outline: give yourself a goal and something possible to work with that will keep you on track while you watch the scenery.

  57. #60 by Danielle Heath on November 22, 2011 - 2:30 pm

    Excellent post! I blogged some of my thoughts on voice today and later wondered what others had to say. Great advice, Kristen.

  58. #61 by Scott Anthony Kelly on January 15, 2012 - 11:34 am

    Interesting article, Interesting for me to think that one’s “Voice” can change by genre.
    Style Perhaps, can change…

    For me I get stuck about should I be writing this genre or that, how adult should this be.
    If I go too far Ill have to change my name.

    I agree though with the structure, a simple ten point structure works forme, three beats.

    Point 1 introductions, then 2-4, 5-7, 8-10 beats.. with and optional 11th point for either huge climax or an extended conclusion about what happened to who afterwards or how the world changed.

    I think ultimately the hardest thing to do is not to change your voice, but finding that mixture of style, genre and use of literary tools that hooks you!

    To find YOUR Voice! A unique and original thing..

    Like Orwell, Dickens or PK Dick, Dahl or King.. your delicate voice should intrique like Sean Connery, excite like Alan Rickman’s.

    The Voice is the most potent of Cocktails, like Crack Cocaine-it delivers a literary high
    creating emotional reasonances in the reader that create actual bodily change.

    In my case while reading “Atonement ” by Ian McEwan a tear or on a train I burst out loud into laughter, reading “The Life of PI” a woman turned to me to look and what I was reading and she smiled “I laughed a lot too”.

    So the Voice is perhaps a mix of pure thought an honed device mixed with lies and dreams.
    Seduction, elation, promise, desire, arousal, hidden in blank prose.

    To find an honest voice, with transparent devices to lure one’s through a three hundred or a thousand pages.

    To find that inner birdsong whether brusque and confident like Hemmingway or sharp and modern
    like Diablo Cody.

    Perhaps then like the “Quest” the journey of self discovery, is the rite of passage for any writer
    like Arthur pulling the “Sword from the Stone” finding our voice as writers is our second birth.

    Then like Sisyphus himself we must every day practice our labours and then we can play.

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