Voice Affects Content; Content Isn’t Voice

Sometimes well-loved sections must be cut from your manuscript because they do not serve the story. Many of us have heard that we must “kill your darlings” to improve, advice that has been attributed to Faulkner, but apparently goes back even further than that.

You may have written a wonderful bit of prose that captures a feeling or belief that is close to your heart and soul. You may have a deep feeling about an aspect of lifestyle, let’s use running as an example. You’re a runner, so you make one of your characters a runner. And, you write an entire section about your philosophy for running. This is content. Because running is important to you, you feel it is part of your voice. But in storytelling, that is not necessarily so.

Go from Point A to Point B

Pulitzer Prize Winner David Mamet, in his master class for writers, says your job as a storyteller is to get Jack or Jill, your protagonist, from Point A in your story, to Point B, the transformation of the character at the end of the book. The story is paramount, and every aspect of your telling must have to do with that direct trajectory the protagonist must travel. If there are brief side trips from that trajectory, they must have a specific and meaningful purpose.

The classic 1976 movie Marathon Man is a great example in which running, a seemingly insignificant aspect of a character, later becomes integral to the story.

So, if Jack or Jill’s philosophy about running does not have a direct impact on the story, does not inform that trajectory in an important way, it must go. Write it for your own satisfaction, but be prepared to cut it from the story. Doing so tightens the story; it does NOT change your voice.

Your voice as a writer comes from the way you tell a story. In your choice of words, in your phrasing, in the “tint” that you bring to your language. It is unique and natural to you. It is in your character development, your description, and your dialog. It seeps into your prose through the life experiences that have molded you, and the emotions you feel while writing a story. 

Just as how the same piece of music sounds quite different if played on a violin versus a flute (or sung by a choir or a rapper), a story that involves that same plot, characters, world, etc., can still change a lot depending on the voice used to tell it.~ Kat Zhang

Where is my Voice?

What, then, is the best way to develop your own unique writing voice? The truth is, it won’t come overnight. You can study other authors you like and practice using some of their techniques. You may hear the voices of friends or co-workers and incorporate them somehow, or let them inform your characters. Your mind is already at work, filing these details away until you’re ready to use them.

Stories come from the subconscious. What drives you to write, to some extent, are your own unresolved inner conflicts. Have you noticed your favorite authors have character types that recur? Plot turns that feel familiar? Descriptive details that you would swear you have read before (a yellow bowl, a slant of light, an inch of cigarette ash)? That is the subconscious at work.~ Cris Freese

Your writer’s voice is truly an inside job. You already have it, you just have to reveal it. All of those experiences go into the melting pot of your psyche. The more you write, the more you relax into the process of it. When you relax, clear away the clutter of daily life, and open your mind to your own creativity, your unique voice will find its way from your mind and your heart through your fingers, onto the keyboard — and into your content! 

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Posted in Writing.