In conferences, on webpages, and in blogs, the professionals looking for fiction make it clear that each day they hope to find, somewhere in the slush pile, a distinct voice — language and perspective that stands out as individual and authentic.
I've written a few posts about voice in the past. I think there are some right ways to develop your own voice open: using dictation, writing dialogue–only scenes, and (ironically) writing pastiches that capture the voices of other writers. There are wrong approaches: writing diatribes, writing essays in ways dictated by long-forgotten sixth grade teachers, and any sort of "how to" writing — which needs to be clear and often becomes generic.
So, for this addition to the blog, I'm going to suggest three exercises that may help you to develop your own voice. They all begin in the same place, choosing an individual you know well to address with your work. Picking out someone in particular forces you to deal with intention, interest, pacing, and word choice that writing for an audience can't match.
Do you have someone in mind? Good. Now try this:
- Describe your favorite scene from a story. It doesn't matter whether it's from your own work or from an author or movie that you connected with. Just communicate the images and the feelings in a way that would be understood by the person you've chosen to address.
- Write about an occasion in your life when you were hurt, but not wronged. We all have cases where people around us, including people who love us, cause us harm. And it can be difficult to put these in perspective when blame isn't easily assigned. The hurt itself becomes more vivid when you try to explain why it felt bad without complicating your explanation with accusations or intentions.
- Imagine a circumstance when you felt wonder or gained a positive insight about people, society, your world, or life. Then relate this incident as clearly as you can while including all the reasons why it mattered to you.
If you wish to, you can return to these exercises and write to different people you also know well. This will give you a different dimension of your authentic voice. If you can do this work by dictating it, you'll probably have better results than if you simply type the words out. If that doesn't feel comfortable, take the time after you've finished your writing to read your exercises out loud. This will help you to connect with your own voice and smooth out any pieces that didn't come naturally.
Once you've done this, the trick is to take the voice you've discovered and move it into your novels, short stories, scripts, or whatever else is your usual writing. This may not happen automatically, but with practice, the sound of your work will change in ways that will help it to stand out when it reaches agents, editors, and other gatekeepers.