Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

NaNoWriMo tip: Find your voice

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Nov• 04•11

Last week I taught an all day workshop on voice and as I was talking to my friend about it he mentioned that the workshop was just what people who are taking part in NaNoWriMo needed. You see, writing, especially writing fast and furious during November for NaNoWriMo, comes much easier when you find your voice. Voice is the glue that holds a story together. No voice and you just have a bunch of words on a page.

So what is voice? It’s the identifiable, authentic, and memorable sound of your narrator or viewpoint character on the page. It’s the personality, sensibility, and truth of the character bubbling through. It contains the attitude and mood toward the events in the story and a persona. Voice makes the story feel real. Voice creates trust in a reader. Voice is what readers connect with before they connect with all the happenings in the story.

No voice, no story.

Peter Elbow says, “People often lack any voice at all in their writing because they stop so often in the act of writing a sentence and worry and change their minds about which words to use. They have none of the natural breath in their writing that they have in speaking. . . .We have so little practice in writing, but so much more time to stop and fiddle as we write each sentence.”

Develop Your Voice:

  • Describe yourself or your character in three-four adjectives. Example: witty, serious, driven, fun, and flirty, excitable.
  • Ask (and answer) the question: Is this how I (or my character) sounds like on the page?
  • Recall the most successful piece (s) you’ve written. What made them successful?
  • Identify the qualities and tone of the voice in those pieces.
  • List your favorite (or your character’s favorite) artistic and cultural influences. (Impressionist paintings, Breaking Bad,  Shakespeare, Steam Punk) Are  these inextricable links references in your stories, or are you avoiding them, because you don’t think people would understand them?
  • List the socio-economic influences that identify you or your character: Southern, small town, world traveler, prep schools and Ivy League college, working class, rural upbringing, etc.
  • List adjectives that might apply to your voice. (lively, thoughtful, conversational)
  • List attributes that you don’t want to convey (long-winded, dull, arrogant)
  •  If you’re writing fiction write in the character’s journal even if the journal isn’t part of story.
  •  What is your character’s emotional bandwidth? That is how does he or she act when depressed, happy, confronted by unfairness or rudeness, or enraged.
  •  How does your character talk when in the midst of lovemaking?
  •  What words or expressions crop up often in your everyday conversations? What about your character’s favorites?
  •  Prune words that don’t add enhance the voice.
  •  Write down three of your favorite authors or books. Now list qualities of their voice. How is your voice distinct from theirs?


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