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’t 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. 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.
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