By Bethany Turner
Is there anything more mysterious to a writer than the concept of voice? We all want ours to be unlike any other in the market. To be distinct and powerful. But how do we go about developing it? More often than not, the top recommendation I see is to spend time reading other writers’ writing, to examine their voice. This is not bad advice, obviously, but here are some additional approaches which may add depth and layers to your writing voice.
- Pay attention to the voice demonstrated through songs you love—and I don’t necessarily mean singing voice. I’m always very open about the fact that I have the musical tastes of an 80-year-old woman, so I’m not ashamed of the example I’m about to give. The Barry Manilow song “Looks Like We Made It” has, on more than one occasion, helped me find my voice to write a scene of romantic longing. Of regret. Of what might have been.
By listening to music which fits the tone of the story I am telling, I have been able to develop my voice into something that is uniquely mine, but still capable of conveying the emotions I feel when I listen to certain music.
- The same goes for movies. I recently spoke in a podcast about a scene in While You Were Sleeping from which I have repeatedly drawn inspiration
Jack (played by Bill Pullman…sigh…Bill Pullman…) drops off a wedding gift for Lucy (played by Sandra Bullock), who is preparing to marry Jack’s brother, despite the fact that she has fallen in love with Jack. The gift is a snow globe of Florence, where Lucy has always dreamed of traveling. The chemistry is intense, the exchange is a bit awkward, and the conflict is real. Jack turns to leave, but Lucy stops him and asks, “Can you give me any reason why I shouldn’t marry your brother?” And then, the moment from which I draw the most voice inspiration…
Finally, he replies, “I can’t.” But the look on his face during the silence said so much more than those two words ever could. Most of us probably have the skills to be able to write a scene like that, but the power of the silence isn’t going to come through the words you’ve written, but through the voice with which you tell your story.
- Do you read your work aloud? If you’re trying to nail down your voice, I strongly suggest you do. Sometimes words appear beautiful on the page, but when you read them aloud you realize those same words are stilted or forced. Sometimes the ears can hear voice more clearly than the eyes can.
- Don’t try so hard. Oh my goodness, did she just say that? I sure did. Should we look to authors we admire and continually study the writing craft to learn more and become better? Of course we should! But at the end of the day, the most distinct voice we have is the one with which we already speak throughout the course of our everyday lives. Listen to yourself. Write in a way that is natural and real. Then, of course, go back and edit. Make it better. Make it tighter. Polish. But you shouldn’t try to write like anyone else. Be you. You may very well be the voice we’re all looking for.
Bethany Turner is the author of The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck. Her next rom-com will release in 2019. She writes for a new generation of readers who crave fiction that tackles the thorny issues of life with humor and insight. Connect at www.seebethanywrite.com, or on social media @seebethanywrite.