Think about when your mom or dad told you a bedtime story. Or your camp counsellor told a ghost story at the campfire. Or when your dad told you about meeting Elvis while he was in the Army. Or your grandmother told you about the Nazi occupation of The Hague.
The storytellers probably didn’t use perfect grammar. They weren’t following any rules. If it was a good story, well told, it held your attention. If they lived the story, then the emotion in their recollection, the rate of their speech, or the way they drew out the story in some places and skipped over the boring stuff in others… or even where they skipped over the bad stuff, giving you only a hint of how bad it really was… that’s the story teller’s voice.
When you write a story, you have a voice, too. Instead of inflection and rate of speech, you have long sentences and short ones. Your descriptions are lingering and detailed or stark and bare. You have delicate, sparkling dialogue or raw, gritty action.
Or any combination in the world.
Voice is one of the hardest things to teach. You can’t read in a book how to have a good voice. You can have a natural ‘ear’ for it, like a musician has an ear for pitch, or a ballerina may have natural grace or dexterity, but you still have to train and practice. In a way, you’re developing your ear for language, and your grace and dexterity with words.
The only way to do that is hands on. A singer with a good ear may recognize good music when she hears it, but but she still has to train her instrument.
How do you do that?
- Write and write and write.
- Read all different types of writing.
- Reread a book that you love and pay attention to how the writer draws you in to the story, how she choses to handle emotional moments, action scenes, or description.
- Experiment with different styles.
- Mimic other writer’s voices, and see what ‘feels’ good to you.
6) Combine what you like most from what you’ve read and written into a voice that’s uniquely yours.