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Need help finding your writing voice?

Editors and Agents, even readers,

KNOW when they read a passage that HAS voice, but they can’t describe it. Let’s take a look at why writing with voice is so troublesome and learn how to find your unique writing voice.

Why is VOICE so challenging? Experts try to define what voice is…see which one of these quotes help you understand voice better.

Definitions of Voice

Here are some thoughts about voice:

Often voice is a kind of shorthand for authenticity (writing in your own voice, catching the true voice of a person, and so on.)

Ursula Le Guin discusses voice as the words used when discussing the narrative. In her book Steering the Craft, she explains all the different point of views in chapter 7, which may include a narrator’s voice and character voice(s). She states there may be numerous viewpoint characters and the narrative voice may change at any time…The writer… is the familiar voice of the storyteller.

I really thought about the voices of poetry and how, if used well, could make all the difference in writing. The five kinds of voices include: Lyrical, Narrative, Dramatic (Apostrophe, The Mask, Conversation)

Read Myra Cohn Livingston’s book Poem-Making where she explains how-

  • the lyrical voice expresses feelings and emotions
  • the narrative voice tells a story
  • a dramatic voice called an apostrophe is when you talk to things that cannot answer and is best used when you’re wondering, asking questions, or giving advice
  • a dramatic voice called mask occurs when you put on another persona other that yourself, and tell about yourself 
  • a dramatic voice uses dialogue between two voices, kind of like listening to a radio or watching a play or TV.

As we gain life experience, our personality takes form, in person and on the page.

Jack Hart offers a secret – relax and let your voice sound (on the page) like yourself.  “A relaxed writer is a fast writer, and fast writers sound more like themselves. He recommends reading your passages out loud.

Voice = Person + Tense + (Diction + Syntax + Tone + Observation + Latitude + Details)

Wowie! I think it’s best if you read Cheryl Klein’s book The Magic Words, specifically chapter 13 titled Person and Personality: Fundamentals of Voice for yourself. She provides lots of fantastic material and examples for each part of that formula. She recommends “experimenting with different combinations to find the voice that’s most comfortable for you and right for the project.”

One other piece of advice from her – “the idea for your next book should start with a character or a plot concept, not a voice (muse) that speaks to you.” 

Finding My Voice

I felt like I found my voice when I wrote faster, which allowed a conversational voice to come through on the page. Writing faster helped me double my word count when I didn’t think I could.

I heard people saying “you can’t teach voice” which made me not only confused but angry and determined. After all, I was an English teacher and part of my job was to evaluate my students on how they wrote, including voice. How could I evaluate their voice IF I couldn’t instruct them how to improve in this area?

I decided to learn all I could about voice. That’s when I signed up for a writing conference on voice with Darcy Pattison. 

She explained VOICE in a simple formula:

VOICE = word choice + sentence structure

We spent the weekend investigating word choice (Diction) and sentence structure. Everyone in the workshop wrote, rewrote, and cheered each other on when we read our revisions. You could hear the changes in voice immediately. It was amazing!

Now that I’m a retired teacher and focused on my own author business, I love helping others improve their writing. By studying sentence styles and word choice and all the other tools that authors use, authors can learn to strengthen their unique writing voice. 

Darcy also explores numerous definitions of voice on her blog.  The VOICE definitions and formulas are out there to use, and by practicing you’ll develop your own art form in writing.

Study Partner

I continue to be curious about this complex and elusive topic of voice and wanted to know more about author/editor/agent points of view on the subject. So during the pandemic, I signed up for webinars where presenters talked about writing voice. I walked away from each presentation with another tool for my writing toolbox.

I’ve partnered with writing friend (Amy Laundrie) to complete book studies on story craft and different kinds of sentences. We’ve learned about 20+ forms of sentence structure and made revisions to our WIPs along the way. And, each change has made remarkable improvements. I am so grateful for Amy. Having a study buddy and/or an accountability partner is not only fun but helps you improve in your craft.

The bottom line is: You can learn how to improve your writing voice. And, teachers can help their students learn to write with a unique voice.

Happy Writing!


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