How to Write with a Natural Voice

If you don’t subscribe to Writer’s Digest Magazine, you should. It’s one of the few things I really think is essential to all writers. I’ve had a subscription for over ten years, and just renewed it for another two.

This months issue contains an article entitled “Writing with a Natural Voice” by Larry Brooks and it was filled with helpful sparks of wisdom. The first paragraph:

“By far the most common entry-level mistake in the writing game, the thing that can get a perfectly good story rejected by an editor on the first page, is overwriting: a writing voice that is overly laden with energy and adjectives, that tries too hard, that is obviously the work of a writer trying to poeticize a story that doesn’t have a chance.”

I think this is probably the thing I see the most in stories by new writers. I know I was certainly guilty of it back in the day. I think it happens because agents make having an “Original Voice” such a big deal. New writers try so hard to have a unique voice that they overdo it. In fact, Mr. Brooks advises all writers to try to write “crisply and cleanly.” To some extent, I agree with him. It’s important that you not bog down your prose, that you not try to make it like poetry. It’s not poetry, people. Unless you’re writing a certain style of literary fiction, trying to make your fiction like poetry will probably get you rejected.

However, I do think that you need to have a strong “character voice.” By that I mean that the personality of the character has to shine through your writing. We have to see the world through the character’s eyes to connect with him, to fall in love with him. If you can’t do that, you’ll get rejected as well. The line between too much voice and too little is very fine, so fine that it can be very difficult to find a voice for you writing. What do you think? Do you have any helpful words of wisdom for mastering voice in your writing?




10 thoughts on “How to Write with a Natural Voice

  1. It’s good to know they’re a reliable source. I profiled an award sponsored by them and didn’t know. 🙂 On the voice thing, the best advice I’ve ever heard is to read A LOT of authors whose voice/style you like. Not so that you copy, but like speaking a language, you learn the rhythms, how much is too much, etc. Then find your own voice. It was compared to artists studying the masterworks, and then doing their own work.

  2. I struggled with the first 5 pages of my novel for a long time, because of this very thing. The most important thing I’ve learned is to get to the point and get there quickly. What reader wants to sludge through a mountain of adjectives to get to the character or the story.

    I love Writer’s Digest – I don’t think I’ve thrown a way a single issue. They all sit neatly organized on my desk. 🙂

  3. Don’t try. I know that sounds weird, but when you try to have voice, it kills the voice. Voice needs to flow out of you. When I relax and get in the character’s head it spills out. When I try to force it, it sounds stilted, trite, and forced. It helped me to free-write from the character’s point of view.

    And I am a huge fan of WD. I’ve been subscribing for several years and been to their conference the past two years. They are an amazing crew of super talented writers. 🙂

  4. I need to get my subscription back to date. As for voice, I try not to think of it too much as it can make things worse if you force/stifle it. I, too, read authors to learn from their style. I don’t practice writing like them but rather, let what I’ve learned flow down onto the page.

    • I totally agree with you. I think that NOTHING helps a new writer more, at least voice-wise, than reading, reading, reading. I’ve read so many books that they’ve filled me up and now are leaking out of my pores, my eyes, my ears, and most importantly, my fingers. THAT is how you get an ear for good writing.

  5. I completely agree with what you said. A few years ago, my writer’s group was looking for another member who submitted an example of his writing for us to critique. I don’t think he was too happy with our comments because he never came back, but our main criticism with his work is it seemed like he’d write a sentence, then look through a thesaurus for a different word for every word in the sentence. Some of the words weren’t even correct synonyms for the original word! It was as though he wanted to show us how smart he was, but in the end, showed us his ignorance. We could barely make it through the first page, which is exactly what a reader for a publishing company would do. If he had just written his work the way he spoke, for the most part, I think his work would have been fine. We just couldn’t get through to his true meaning because of all the distractions.

    • Yeah. I think that happens a lot with new writers. I remember back when I was in high school, I was worried that what I had to say wasn’t good enough or important enough, so I tried to make it better, more important. It takes you a while to realize that no matter what you’re writing, you have something important to say and that you need to say it as clearly, yet as vividly, as you can.

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