In the comments of Wednesday’s post, Coming in out of the Cold? John G. Hartness, the topic of voice and its importance in a successful book came up. (Okay, so I mentioned it and Faith expanded on the subject, but the conversation still sparked the idea for this post.) Voice has been discussed several times on Magical Words, and there is a good reason the topic emerges again and again: it is one of the most elusive tools in your writer toolkit.
Grammar can be taught. You can learn how a plot arc should progress. You can even glean tips on how to make your writing leaner by identifying commonly abused/overused words or parts of speech. But no one can teach you how to find your voice. It is something you either have, or you have yet to develop.
If you have a distinct voice in your writing, congratulations–you’re ahead of the game. If you’ve yet to find your voice, you’re just going to have to keep writing until something finally clicks and it falls into place.
If “just keep writing” is the best advice I have, then why did I bother adding yet another post on voice to MW? Because when I picked this topic, I glanced through the archives and found a lot of wonderful insights on voice, but I didn’t see anyone mentioning something I find to be a very important aspect of voice: timing.
Timing? What could I possibly mean by timing?
Well, voice is not only what you say, but also how you say it. Voice is your word order. It is your punctuation. Your paragraphing. Your rhythm. It is what determines how the reader “hears” your words in their head.
Think about it like someone telling a joke. A successful comedian understands how to use emphasis and dramatic pauses to increase the laughs he receives. A less talented comedian fudges that timing and the joke falls flat. Now think about that same joke told in a monotone–not only is it not funny, it’s boring.
If you’re still searching for your voice, try paying attention to your timing. Are you writing your book like a term paper with all the paragraphs approximately the same size? Do all your sentences follow the same noun, verb, direct object, ect. pattern? If so, try to shake things up.
You might have a paragraph that is a single word. If that’s the emphasis you feel the word needs, go with it. Occasionally a sentence fragment might be the very best thing for a situation. Don’t fight it. You can’t throw the grammar book out the window, but feel free to try a little more creative punctuation. How does the story sound in your head? Can you capture that pattern, that rhythm, on the page?
Voice is a combination of the words you choose and how those words are delivered. A strong, distinct voice is one your reader can hear. If you haven’t found that voice yet, keep writing, keep playing with words and with timing–you will find it!
Have a great weekend everyone.
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