The Evolution of An Author’s Voice: How Does It Happen?

A writer's voice is, in some ways, a self-portrait with words.

A writer’s voice is, in some ways, a self-portrait with words.

Style is so important to writing. When you, as an author, find your voice: that’s a magical moment. And that’s what I want to talk about today: how do you know when you have found your voice? Does a writer’s style ever stop evolving, hopefully for the better?

At this point in time, I have written five novels and self-published three of them, and I feel that have found my voice (by and large), though I am not really sure when and how that happened.

For the most part, it’s a gradual process. Distinguishing the steps as they happen is difficult.

I suppose that for me, the majority of that process happened during my last round of edits and final changes to my first published novel, “The Crimson League.”

Why is that? It’s of necessity, considering how I consider style. Not everyone will approach or define style the way I do, and that’s fine.

To me, an author’s individual style, her unique voice, is a reflection of the aspects of language that matter most to her (in terms of inclusion and exclusion).

These aspects can be more literal/ physical in terms of language–for instance, how an author constructs sentences–but they also are figurative, involving preference for or avoidance of certain figures of speech.

Editing “The Crimson League” got me thinking about what aspects of language matter to me. I had to hone in on specific “errors,” on chosen things I didn’t like about the way I told my story. I also focused on emphasizing and strengthening what techniques served me best.

In retrospect, I think that was the moment I found my style because it was the first time I zeroed in on reshaping my writing so that my authorial voice rang true to me.

STYLE AS AN AMALGAM OF THINGS

The aspects of language that combine to create style are many, and they may seem at first to have nothing to do with each other. Still, together they constitute an overall presentation that is your storytelling style.

Consider just some things that impact style:

  • If you as a writer love the use of heavy-handed symbolism, then symbolism will be an important part of your style. It will be one of those things that will bring readers to identify you as the author of a certain piece.
  • Maybe you are a very visual writer and you describe people and objects in great detail, with great use of vivid imagery and particularly color.
  • Maybe you love outdoor settings–parks, lakes, street corners–and the bulk of your work has that kind of a setting.
  • Maybe your write dialogue well, and your work is full of it. Maybe you have hardly any dialogue at all.
  • One of my favorite writers, G.K. Chesterton, was a HUGE fan of paradox and never, ever held back when he saw an opportunity to point out a paradox or to use one to advance/qualify his argument.
  • In terms of a “scientific” study of language, all writers either favor shorter, simpler sentence structures or more complex sentences. There is a spectrum, so you as a writer might fall somewhere closer to the middle than to either extreme. But you’ll fall somewhere, and you won’t deviate much from that spot unless you make an intentional effort to do so.

To be technical, everything from whether you prefer prepositional phrases over adverbial and adjectival clauses to whether or not you use metaphor impacts your style.

DON’T OVERTHINK IT

Don’t freak out if you feel that last paragraph got a bit technical. If you don’tΒ  know what makes an adverbial clause, or whether you use them a lot, that doesn’t matter.

Some authors prefer to get down to the nitty gritty of grammar, but it’s not necessary to do that to write well. Just make sure you have a great editor (and proofreader.)

The best thing about style is that style should come about naturally.Β I wrote a post earlier this week about how style isn’t something you can force.

You might use a wide range of adverbial clauses because that’s simply how you write. That’s how you put words on the page, without ever knowing what an adverbial clause is. And that’s perfect. You’re writing what sounds right to you, which is how you develop your voice.

(I love how write and right are spoken the same in English!)

If grammar isn’t your favorite thing and your style is full of writing weakeners–adverbs, too much passive voice, using “it” without an antecedent–an editor will help you hone in on those trouble spots and tighten up your writing. Eventually, you’ll learn to recognize those problem constructions and largely fix them before sending your work to other people.

MY PERSONAL VOICE, AND HOW VOICE EVOLVES

Through the years as I’ve worked toward self-publication, I’ve figured out where my voice falls (for the most part).

  • Third person, for sure. I don’t think I could ever write well, fiction-wise, in the first person.
  • I like my narration to be pretty informal. I don’t hesitate to use contractions in narration as well as dialogue when I feel the contraction brings a natural flow and the sentence would feel stilted without it.
  • I like short, simple sentences…. I rarely write any sentence that has more than two or three clauses in it.

As I continue to write, I find that my style is evolving in the sense that it is tightening up. My first drafts have lots of issues, but grammar-wise they are stronger each time, and I’m noticing much more easily where I’m giving in to my writing tics (looking at you, adverbs! Also, “as if” and “seems.”)

I have learned what things I do well and where my writing is strongest, and I’m starting to rely more and more on those techniques to reshape early drafts to fit the mold that feels like me. The real me.

Reaching the moment when I feel that I’m saying what I meant to be saying all along, and in the way I meant to say it, is wonderful.

That moment doesn’t come easy, and sometimes I feel like it never comes, but it’s always the goal where style is concerned.

(UPDATE FOR MY REGULAR VISITORS: I have now, after at least 5 weeks of not being able to edit or write anything, broken through my emotional and life barriers and gotten back on the writing wagon. It feels great! Writing again is a huge step to being a happier me. I’m really excited.)

So, how would you describe your voice? Where do you feel you are in the process of finding and shaping it?

If you liked this post, you might find these other posts on style helpful.

Don’t forget to drop by for my next post in this style series: discussing how everyone has stylistic preferences and not everyone will like the way you write.

You can also sign up, if you’d like, to follow my blog by email at the top right of the page. That way you won’t miss out on future posts.

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49 responses to “The Evolution of An Author’s Voice: How Does It Happen?

  1. I’m still trying to hone my style. My novel writing tends to be a bit too formal and I’m working on loosening up a bit and becoming more comfortable with my words.

    • That’s a great goal! We all have things we need to focus on in terms of our style and the biggest step, I think, is figuring out what those problem spots are πŸ™‚ Best of luck, Buffy!

  2. Welcome back πŸ™‚

    Another great post. I didn’t even know what ‘style’ was until I started to get feedback from readers/friends. I think that is sooo important. It’s like when a friend compliments you on your hair or nice feature that you previously didn’t think about or recognize. Cheers!

    • Oh my gosh, I LOVE that analogy, Lani! How cool! I had mentioned a self-portrait of sorts in the caption but you took the image connection in a totally different way. πŸ™‚ It really is kind of like that, getting dressed up and throwing focus on your best features.

  3. Well done for getting back on the writing wagon – glad to read that you’re enjoying it!

  4. I’ve no idea how it happens, but every time I read something I’ve written and have the feeling that this is truely *me*, that it truely captures what was going through my head in that moment, that’s indeed a magical moment.

  5. Musings from a writer's life

    I know my voice, no questions about it, always have. But I am toning and shaping it and that’s where it gets interesting for me. I’m experimenting with writing in third person as I’ve always just done first by default. It will be interesting to see if that feels like home as much as writing in first person does.
    Glad you broke through your barrier, I like to view dry writing spells as moments where I’m building some writing muscle – like a restitution period, where afterweards you get results from that “standing still” period.

    • Thanks for your support! I’m feeling that’s what will come of it πŸ™‚ Life has gotten in the way and zapped me of all drive and energy but I feel like I’m back again. Hopefully I can make something of this really messed up draft and find some ways to expand my story πŸ™‚

      I think it’s cool that you write in first. I can’t imagine writing in first, haha! That’s just not me. It’s awesome you are branching out that way to try third!

  6. Wow! You have no idea how helpful I find this post. Just last night I was ready to give up on my 31,000 word rough draft because the style was all wrong. I hate the tone, there is no flow, I was totally frustrated. I’ve been noticing my tics as well. I’m definitely prone to long, complex sentences, metaphors, and going off on descriptive tangents. Reading this post gave me hope. You touched on a lot of the things that I’m dealing with. Thank you!!!

    I’m glad to hear you found fresh inspiration. I’m a subscriber and really enjoy your posts. Peace and joy to you. πŸ™‚

    • Thank you so much!!! πŸ™‚ And best of luck with your draft! There is nothing inherently wrong with a complex style, as long is it’s tight in its complexity. Lots of people write that way πŸ™‚

  7. Congrats on getting back on the writing wagon.

    I’ve got that long, colorful sentences in third-person present tense, which is still evolving around the edges. I have the core, but I think a person’s style is always evolving. You learn from your editors and want to experiment with things like adding suspense, foreshadowing, and other tricks. Right now, I’m going through the first book again because a friend pointed out some of my repeated mistakes. I think this is one of the big benefits of indie authordom. You can fix up a published book after people tell you where you went wrong.

    • I totally agree with you about everything here! I love that style and voice are always evolving, and I do hope eventually to go back and do more work with the trilogy I have out πŸ™‚

      • I will admit it is a little frustrating to go back to them. More because I wonder how I could have let it go out like this. Nothing wrong with characters or stories, but the stories seem technically weaker than what I do now. Guess it keeps the ego in check.

        • It’s always tough to go back and look at older work. It’s a mark of improvement as we write more and more…. Things we thought were okay then we would never write now πŸ™‚

        • I will admit that my first suffered from ‘everyone is right’ syndrome. I threw in every suggestion over the years and it became a mess. So, I can’t say I’m surprised that is has more weaknesses than the others. I had hoped I cleaned a lot of it up, but it was the first when doing the big editing run on all my books. So, confidence and clarity weren’t very high. Such a mess. πŸ™‚

        • That’s the life of a writer! We all have to learn to embrace the mess πŸ™‚ I’m trying to do that now, with my current WIP, the first in a series that I have…. well, no idea where it’s going. haha! talk about craziness!

        • Sounds like fun though. End every day with ‘I didn’t see that coming’. Not sure if better or worse than ending a day yelling at characters for screwing things up.

        • It is!!! I’m concentrating now on trying to plot out the major goals of every kingdom involved in a war, which characters will be where and do what, and so forth. That will help me edit book one. SO much fun discovery!!!

        • Oh god, I have a large-scale war book that I plan on doing at some point. It’s a headache with several forces, betrayals, heroes, failures, and just making sure it isn’t a one-sided fight. I made a timeline and read a few stories from war epics like Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It helped a bit.

        • that’s a great idea!!!

  8. You made an excellent point- style and voice just can’t be forced. Also, when you said that the things that are important to you will become part of your voice and show in your writing, I had an a ha! moment. You’re so right.

    Also, as you noted, I think a lot of it does come down to sentence structure as well. Every author writes and phrases things differently.

    Now, the fact that it took you five books to find it is . . . well, I have a lot of work to do. Off to write πŸ˜‰

  9. Victoria, I’m glad you broke through the barrier.
    Thanks for this great post on style. I’d say mine evolves, depending on the project. As a ghostwriter, my style has to adhere to the β€œauthor’s” personality. But when I work on my own projects, I tend to use a variety of sentence lengths. I might toss in a simile or metaphor if it fits. I have an informal blogging style. In fiction, the style varies, however. With third person, I might be more or less formal, depending on the character. With first person, I’m informal.

  10. “Seems” is the worst for me! I wish it could be stricken from my mind so I didn’t have to manually edit out all its permutations.
    Great post!

  11. Great post, Victoria! Glad to hear you are back on the writing wagon. My style varies depending on what I’m writing. My current novel series is third person limited, but I just had a short story accepted that’s first person. It was fun to play with the different POV for me–and that POV was the only way to write that particular story. In most cases, my voice is pretty informal, unless that doesn’t fit the character.

  12. Thanks for this post, Victoria! My roommate is not a writer or editor, but easily could be. She is very well-read and can pick up on things like pacing, characterization, etc. So she is going to be my first reader. I know it is written not to have a friend or family member read your first drafts because they may tell you they love it and avoid hurting your feelings. Well, she isn’t like that! haha..I don’t mean that she would enjoy hurting my feelings, but she is the type (as I am) to never, ever ask an opinion if you don’t seriously want an honest one. I wrote a scene once as a writing exercise. She liked it. She said, “Wow, I really like your voice here!” I was surprised. I tilted my head like a dog might, and said, “I have a voice?” She could see what I couldn’t. Amazing! πŸ™‚ I suppose I will find out soon. I am going to be writing a short story for an anthology to be published on November 27, A World of Joy. It will be any and all faiths, a book of inspirational prose for the holiday season. It will be on Amazon and it will be free. It is written by the members in my group, Authors Social Media Support Group, or ASMSG. I am going to attempt first person for my story. I am strictly a third person type, but I don’t think this particular story would work as well in any other viewpoint. So, my first time published ever in a point of view I’ve never attempted..boy I really do it to myself sometimes..haha. Well, I have until the November 14 deadline, so if it doesn’t work in first person, I can change it. Writing is rewriting, it is said. Thanks again, and say a prayer for me! Divine intervention could definitely help! πŸ™‚

    • A good and honest but respectful first reader, who knows what he or she is talking about, is a great blessing!!! πŸ˜› Glad your roommate fits the bill!!!

      Congrats on the short story publication, that’s awesome! I have never submitted a short. Maybe at some point I should!

  13. I know that I have a style – and I even quite like my style. I just have no idea what it is or what components make it what it is. However, I shall now go back to re-read this post and see if I can use it to figure out the answers to some of those questions. Thanks a lot.

    • If you like how things are going and you’re having success, don’t rip things apart πŸ™‚ No need to fix something that’s working πŸ™‚ Examining your style isn’t fixing something that isn’t broken, of course.

  14. Hey, Victoria. Your post seems good. That’s better than seeming not good. It would be better still if the post were good. Actually, it is. I don’t know why I said it “seems” good. Must have had “seems” on the mind. Wonder how that happened. I usually avoid “seems” like I would avoid a plague of locusts. Perhaps that’s not a good analogy. Avoiding a plague of locusts can be difficult. On second thought, maybe it’s the perfect analogy. Avoiding “seems” and all the words that can replace it appears to be as difficult as avoiding a plague of locusts. Wait, it seems like I’m being redundant. Am I being redundant or repetitive? What does this comment have to do with anything? Your post is great. Thanks.

  15. I would describe my writing voice as brazen. My characters and words don’t shy away from much.

    But of course, that could have everything to do with the fact that I’m writing stories that lend themselves to that type of R rated writing.

    When I’m not sticking to a theme, I like to (time to get a little awkward) caress the words. Using just enough to get the point across while leaving the reader and the page wanting more.

    Two very distinct and opposite styles there, I suppose once I have a few novels under my belt I’ll settle somewhere in between.

    Words are my toys, and I’m just a big kid.

    P.S. “if you” are two words that haunt me.

    • “if you” is haunting, wow!!!!!!

      Love how you describe variations and fluctuations in style here that are very fitting for different moments and perhaps different works. I feel like words are toys, too…. I have so much fun with them!

  16. I am learning about my style and voice every day. I also agree that feedback from readers is paramount to understanding your own work. Your articles are always so well thought out and helpful. Keep writing. Glad to see you back on track πŸ™‚

    • thank you so much!!! I love the way you talk about learning about your style and voice every day. It’s so true…. That’s why I’ve always tried to make sure I write every day. So glad to be back on that trend! πŸ™‚

  17. I will be sharing this with a Tuesday night class I facilitate n Creative writing at the Prison I work for as a librarian. I think the information is fantastic!

  18. Pingback: 5 Tips to Help Authors Find Their Voice | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  19. In my first novel I took every bit of advice that was out there. You can imagine what happened to my MS– not good. I then rewrote the entire novel. But still, something wasn’t quite right. With my current WIP I have been true to myself, and I love it! I’m almost done editing my WIP, but now I don’t know what to do with my first novel. I spent a year on it, had interest from agents, but it “wasn’t as tight as others they were considering.” Any suggestions? For now it’s on the back burner until I finish my WIP. But soon I’ll have to make some tough choices. But the thought of going through it for the fiftieth time– well, you know. What would you do in my position?

    • It all depends, honestly, on what you want to do with it. If you don’t feel up to working with it now, you could let it go for the moment and focus on your other WIP. You can also hire an editor freelance and then self-publish once things are tighter or submit again. It all depends on what is right for you…. If you feel in your heart this work is meant to be published, then either now or later on, when the time is right, you’ll find the strength to suck it up and edit some more/hire an editor. If you feel the work was only meant for you, really, and that you’ve learned from it and you find peace moving on to other things, then you’ll eventually find that peace πŸ™‚ I hope things work out with you happy (and successful!) either way!!!

      • Thank you. Just “venting” to you made me realize which way to go. It is meant to be published and i can’t let it go. I’ve also figured out exactly how to fix it so it flows better. But i will finish my WIP first. Thanks for the help.

        • oh YEA!!! Sometimes all it really does take to figure out what to do is to lay out the options to someone else! I’m so glad you have a gut feeling and figured things out. Best of luck to you!!!!!! πŸ™‚

  20. Pingback: Free Book Trailer & Evolution of Author’s Voice | Larry Crane

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