Friday, February 3, 2012

Voice and Style

Whether you are just learning how to write or a seasoned writer there are two terms you will hear or see frequently...voice and style. When I first started writing this confused me to no end. There are tons of how-to books out there on the subject and to me they are basically the same part of a whole.

Take for example this picture. If you read the whole thing it is the example of a good writing style and showing your individual voice in writing as an author. It's memorable. Now, focus on the large print. This is an example of how not to write as an author. It's gone.

You will often hear agents and publishers say they are looking for fresh voices and styles from an author...a character driven novel in which they are blown away by. What a difference a correctly placed "n" makes. So what makes up writing style and a unique voice?

1) They are appropriate to the story and character portrayed.
A friend of mine wrote a novel about an eight-year old kid who becomes the next Alexander the Great. Now most kids I know at that age are barely able to command their own lives let alone an army. But this author suspends belief, shows you brief glimpses into his past, and takes the reader on a journey of how this young boy masters his command skills.

2) It's the mood or tone for the writing.
I started "The Sacrificial Lamb" with a murder as the opening scene. It's dark and ominous for the main character. The novel continues in this frame as the youngster battles the skeletons in her closet and around her.
3) It evokes strong feelings and statements.
How many times have you seen or read something that made you say, "I'd never do that!" Watched a horror movie where the intended victim stops, turns around, and looks to see if the killer is still behind them? Something a normal person wouldn't do. If it were me, I'd keep running for several miles before I even thought about stopping.You get the idea.
4) A definite and well rounded character.
This is where most authors fail. They do not know their characters well enough to be definite. I regularly have arguments with my characters. I'll write a scene and have them tell me they wouldn't say this or that in a given situation, or "uh uh, that's all wrong. I'd never do that!"

Style is basically how you put the words together. What punctuation you use and when you use it. This ties into the voice. Think of Style as the frame work and Voice as the filler.
1) Adding diction.
Are the ideas...Abstract or concrete. General or specific. Denotation or connotation. And the big no-no cliches and bromides.
2) Paraphrasing
When you take something known and twist it into something new. Sort of like a plumber who fits an intricate set of pipe work under your sink to allow water to flow in and flow out.
3) Syntax (ARGHHH! Grammar!) Yep you got it. It's all about the grammar you use. It's independent clauses. Your choice of whether you use subordinate clauses and HOW you use them. Whether the subordinate clause is before or after the independent clause.

There are thousands of examples and definitive resources available on both Voice and Style. So what is mine? I dunno! I'm just a puppet writing what my characters tell me to write. No matter how much I want to control my stories my characters win.

Most times I'm character driven to the point of insanity. Which reminds me of a psych-eval I took once upon a time.
a) Do you hear voices?
How can I get them to shut up?
b) Do these voices tell you to do terrible things to yourself and others?
When the character voices are at their peak...I don't eat, sleep, and bounce in my chair until my eyeballs turn yellow. "But why do I have to kill this character?" I whimper. "I like this character."
c) How stressed do you feel after work?
You mean the work actually stops??? I can't shut the voices off in my head.
d) Do you feel anxious?
Doh! I write suspense.
It continues on like this until I get to the question...
e) What is your current career?
I'm an author. I hear the psychologist breathe a sigh of relief.

So what is your style and voice in your writing?

Keep writing and loving the Lord.


  1. Very insightful post - thanks! Voice and style comprise the heart of a novel, yet they are hard to define and find. Still working on finding mine (although I think I am almost done).

    1. E.D- I think every writer struggles to find their own voice and style. Most times even when they find it, it wasn't them that defined it but someone else.


I love to hear from you! Agree, Disagree, matter. Even if it's to say you were here.