By Darvell Hunt
Nobody wants to hear a great story written in the voice of a college research paper. Sadly, you can kill a great story if you don’t tell it right—but you can also dress up a so-so story by using a fresh and compelling voice.
But how? If you’re not a snarky, smart-aleck teenager, how do you write like one? Much has been said about finding your voice, but how do you find that voice if it’s not your natural self?
I think there are two ways this can happen—sometimes you can just click with our character and can write how they talk, even if it’s not like you talk. Yet sometimes, you can only achieve that great voice with long hours of practice and listening to real people similar to your target characters.
But hang on—let’s back up a little. What is voice? It’s simply how your story sounds to the reader. It’s not the plot, traits of the characters, or the setting, or anything like that—it’s how you put the words together to get all these other elements across to the reader in a compelling way. Your story is filtered through your voice.
The best way to waste a great story is to have a boring voice—and this will kill your chances of succeeding with the reader, as well as an agent or publisher.
So, how do you make your voice not boring?
This is a hard question to answer, but I suggest that you try make your voice real. Don’t just try to copy what you hear people who resemble your characters—but try to BE the people you are observing. Put yourself in their heads and try to think, act, and, yes, talk like they do.
A good writer is a good observer, but not just a copier. Since most of our stories—even high fantasy—are based upon real-life experiences, writers need to either have great experiences themselves or take the time to observe them. My best writing tends to be from personal experiences, but you can also glean great content from observing—and listening to—other people.
I personally have found that good voice is easier to achieve in first person narrative—but I also think it’s harder to perfect. As a learning experience, I wrote a novella once from the point of view of a woman in first person. It was a challenging experience and forced me to think outside of my normal life—but I think it’s turned out good.
It’s hard to say how to find that voice that will make your story great—but it’s also fairly easy to recognize when you’ve found it. If it’s good, you’ll know it—and so will others.