Writing: Finding your writer’s voice

Pencil writing 'I am a writer'

I’ve been thinking a lot about my writer’s voice recently. It got me thinking: what exactly is a writer’s voice? If our voices are the sounds we make when we speak, then a writer’s voice has to be the ‘sounds’ our words make on the page. It’s the words we choose and how we put them together. In other words, it’s what makes us different from everyone else.

Some writers have a very distinctive voice, for example Gabriel García Márquez. I recently read One Hundred Years of Solitude and Márquez’s description of Melquíades jumped right out at me:

“A heavy gypsy with an untamed beard and sparrow hands…”

What exactly are sparrow hands? Thin and claw-like? Small and light? Hard and bony? It doesn’t really matter.  Márquez’s characters are unique. I love reading his novels because I always feel like I’m walking through a dream, rich and vivid in imagery. He goes on to describe the time in rains for over four years without stopping in the town of Macondo:

“The air was so damp that fish could have come in through the doors and swum out the windows, floating through the atmosphere in the rooms.”

It flows together so smoothly that it’s difficult to believe he didn’t write it in English

You couldn’t ever confuse the voice of Márquez with say, Nick Earls. Here’s a description of Rick, Jon’s luckless flatmate in Bachelor Kisses, who sleeps under a Porky Pig doona cover.

“His mother made him the doona cover, from children’s curtain material. And doesn’t it just say, No-one’s having sex with my boy? You’d have to bring a girl home drunk and late at night and come up with some good reason for keeping the lights off before you’d be likely to pork under the pig.”

The novels are Márquez and Earls couldn’t be more different, but I think they’re both brilliant. So how do writers develop such distinctive voices? I asked a few for their opinions and here’s what I got:

  • You can’t learn ‘voice’ on a creative writing course. You can only develop it by writing. Practise writing every single day and set yourself a daily word target.
  • Read authors whose style you admire, then try and imitate their style as a learning exercise to develop your awareness of different voices.
  • You need to enjoy the process of writing. Write about things you care about and your personality will shine through.
  • Choose a feature of writing that you can change, for example sentence length. Try writing a paragraph with very short sentences or very long sentences. Alternatively, try writing a paragraph without a particular feature, for instance no adverbs or no dialogue. How does it change your writing?

Any more thoughts?

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