When you read enough of an author you begin to develop an ear for them. It can get to the point where you can pick a random book, flip to a page, and say to yourself, “This reminds me of (insert author).” In writer speak, we call this voice. Voice is your style, your pizzazz, the thing making your writing unique to you. This voice changes over time.
Here are two really interesting examples of voice I recently read about in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. This book is written by Renni Browne and Dave King and these excerpts come from Page 213.
“It was the middle of a bright tropical afternoon that we made good our escape from the bay. The vessel we sought lay with her main-topsail aback about a league from the land and was the only object that broke the broad expanse of the ocean.”
“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”
You likely recognized the second entry as the opening to Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby-Dick. Perhaps less well know is the first offering, which is the opening to the seafaring novel Omoo. Interestingly, both of these novels were penned by the same author.
While I’m not going to argue about which one I think is better, or critique classic works of writing, I do want you to look at those openings and see how the voice changes. Omoo was published in 1847 while Moby-Dick was published in 1851. In those years between, Melville begin to hone and develop his voice.
Browne and King explain, ” Certainly when he wrote Omoo Melville had not yet found what John Gardner (in On Becoming a Novelist) has called ‘his booming, authoritative voice.’ In the Moby-Dick opening, Gardner points out, the rhythms ‘lift and roll, pause, gather, roll again.’ The authority is unmistakable” (p. 214).
In my opinion, you are what you eat. Melville wrote amazing books about seafaring life partly because he spent some time at sea (the noblest of pursuits). He even went so far as to sign aboard a whaling ship to simply be a deck-hand and experience the life. Is it so surprising his account of life at sea is so realistic?
Let’s not get it twisted. I’m not saying if you want to write a fantasy space opera you need to build a spaceship, round up a bunch of LARPers, and pack a ton of Cheetos and Mountain Dew (if you do, let me know). What I am saying is you should be reading. If a genre interests you, start getting to know the voices of the authors who live in it. See how they tackle dialogue, narrative, descriptions, and story telling in general.
This is the worry I hear, “If I read a bunch of those authors I will start writing like them. It won’t be my voice it will be theirs.”
Yes, your voice may be similar to authors you particularly enjoy, but yet, it will still be yours. When you first start writing you may really borrow other writers voices. That’s only because you aren’t confident enough to raise yours up just yet – give it some time. The more diverse your reading becomes and the more confident you get as you write, the more your voice will begin to make it’s own way.
Good luck finding your voice! Do you have an author who you just love due to their unique voice? Let me know – sharing is caring.
That’s it for today. Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!