Hello and welcome back to the blog! I meant to put a blog post up earlier this week, but a cold kept me from doing so. It was all I could do to get my regular writing finished. Today, I would like to talk about finding your voice as a writer. First, however, I have a couple of items to share. For those uninterested in news about my writing, you can skip the next two paragraphs.
Yesterday, I finished the second draft of The Stranger. This afternoon I will begin editing, which happens to be my least favorite aspect of writing because it doesn’t include much writing at all (if the second draft did its job). It’s a necessary task though. If you noticed I called it The Stranger, then you’re observant. I’m stuck between two new titles for my work in progress. The first is From Darkness Comes… which I really like and seems to fit the story well. The other is At Home in the Dark. Last week, I talked about not having a eureka title moment. I should probably explain what I mean by that. Simply put, it’s that moment when a title pops into my head out of nowhere and makes all the sense in the world. Most of my stories have had such moments. In the rare cases where this hasn’t happened, I’ve simply stuck with the tentative title, which I can’t do in this case. While writing the last chapter of the second draft I had such a moment. At Home in the Dark was the result. What’s the problem then? Why haven’t I christened my work in progress At Home in the Dark? It’s not a perfect fit for the story would be my explanation. It’s like trying to fit a round peg into an oval whole. If you try hard enough, it just might fit. The question is, should you? While writing this I might have talked myself into From Darkness Comes…
This week I received a response from an agent about Breaking Character: The Craven House. For those unaware, I’ve been querying agents about representation. I queried twenty-one agents several months ago, took a break, and have since renewed my efforts to find an agent. The agent commented that my query and the sample pages provided were well written with a strong concept. She also felt that an agent would be intrigued enough to ask for a reading. Ultimately, the story wasn’t right for her and she rejected it. I do appreciate the kind words though. Knowing an agent thought I was doing something right was news this admitted self-doubter needed.
That was the longest intro to a blog post I have ever done. I guess we should get started.
This post is about finding your own writing voice and how I found mine. First off, I should tell you what I mean when I say writing voice. It’s the style in which a writer writes. The way a writer uses punctuation, syntax, diction, dialogue, tone, and vocabulary all impact what the reader perceives as the writer’s voice.
There is an old saying “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. While this might be true in other aspects of life, it should be left outside the office door when you sit down to write. A brilliant version of Stephen King or J.K. Rowling already exist. What are the chances you will sound any better than those two giants of the industry? Slim and none would be my answer.
Somewhere in my office I have a printed copy of the first novel I wrote, titled Ghost Town. Thanks to a computer unexpectedly expiring, most of my early writing is lost forever (A note: always backup your important documents!). It’s okay, my early writing wasn’t very good. I realize now that I was a writer searching for his voice. I have flipped through the pages of Ghost Town before and was left with a distinct impression. This was a writer imitating his hero. R.L. Stine being the hero in this case. The story was campy and vaguely funny in the style that make Goosebumps fun to read. However, it fell short of anything Mr. Stine would ever write.
Today, my writing style differs a great deal from my childhood hero, despite writing in the same genre (middle grade horror). The stories I write tend to take themselves seriously. The horror has much more of a psychological aspect to it than any Goosebumps book you’ll read. Any moments of humor are provided by the dialogue in the form of character’s interacting. The tone is serious and the horror edges toward the dark side. How did I go from campy and vaguely funny to serious and dark? I found my voice, that’s how.
If you’re a writer searching for your own voice, I have some news for you that might not be reassuring. I can only speak of my own experience, mind you. For me, finding my voice took a lot of reading and lot more writing. I wish there was some shortcut to finding a writing voice. If there is, well, I didn’t find it in my writing journey.
It probably took me longer to find my voice than many other writers. I have been writing and submitting my work to magazines since I was nineteen. That’s sixteen years’ worth of serious writing (yes, I just gave you my age if you can do the math). I thought I had found my voice years ago. Then about three or four years ago, I noticed a change. The writing was crisper than it had ever been, with each word having an impact. There was something different about the tone of the story, which I still don’t understand. The change had happened over time, though I only realized it in a sudden manner.
Like I said before, the best way to find your voice is to read a lot and write a whole lot more. Try to increase your vocabulary through reading. Pay attention to the structure other writer’s use when reading. Write a lot. Finding your voice isn’t something that will happen overnight, but you may look back one day and realize that somewhere along the line you found it.
My own writing voice won’t elevate a mediocre story, like Stephen King’s unique voice can (it sounds bad, but I mean it as a compliment). My stories aren’t good enough to make up for overwriting, like Dean Koontz (he’s a classic over writer, but his plots are amazing). Yet the combination of the two are good enough in my opinion. I’m waiting for confirmation on that.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.
Stephen Michael Roth