Susan Carol Hauser

Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Do You Have a Writing Voice?

In On Writing on January 2, 2010 at 12:22 am

Of course you have a writing voice!

It is in our own writing that we find our voice and style, the forces that sustain us when we want to write larger and longer works.

Perhaps you wonder if you have a voice or style.  The answer is yes. Voice in writing is an expression of personality, of a certain kind of authority. Think of it this way: most of us can recognize the voice of a mother or father, teacher or sibling.  We might say, “you sound just like my mother,” or “that’s something a brother would say.” Every time we speak out loud, we speak in a voice of some kind, of a girl or woman, a man or boy, of someone who is hurt or is happy. In this column, I speak as a writer.

To identify your literary voice, set out several things you have written. What can you say about who is speaking in them?  Is it a young man, a young woman? An athlete? A grandchild? Is the speaker meditative? Wild? Recognizing the voice you write in is a step toward understanding your own writing, and what it might mean to a reader.

The writing you have done also expresses a style. Again, set out several of your writings.  This time, compare them for commonalities in form. Look at your sentences: are they mostly the same length? What about your paragraphs? Do you use colors a lot, or sounds, or technical words? Do you ask a lot of questions? Those habits in your writing are your style. Style in writing is like style in clothing: it tells us something about the writer. A writer who uses bright colors, like a person who wears them, is probably different from a person who writes about pastels or plaids.

Tone is another element you can look for in your writing, although tone is more likely to change from piece to piece, whereas style and voice tend to remain constant.  Tone in writing is like tone in our actual voices: it expresses feeling, or absence of feeling. Most of us have probably been told “don’t use that tone of voice with me.” Looking again at your writing, what is the tone of each piece? Happy, angry, sassy, proud, sad, contemplative, distant, warm?

Voice, style and tone can, of course, be manipulated for effect, but in our personal writing it is important to let them emerge spontaneously, and to learn to recognize them for what they are. By doing that, we can discover our “author-ity” as writers – can discover what it is we have to say in addition to the meaning conveyed by the words themselves.  As we become more adept with writing, we can hone our voices rather than manipulate them, thus preserving the integrity of our personal vision, of our passion for the art.