Thursday, December 1, 2011
What's your 'voice'? by Terry Burns
How did you find your unique writing voice? Did you struggle to find it or did it come easily to you?
Let me put my writing hat on for a minute, the one in the picture, I don't get to wear it much these days. In my opinion if somebody is struggling to find "their writing voice" they're trying to force it. My writing voice is not the way I talk, my West Texas Drawl, it is who I am.
It's the sum total of my education, my upbringing, my faith, my family, my experiences and it comes through in the way I write, even when I am trying to craft dialogue where the character speaks far differently than how I would speak myself. Some of my characters would speak much as I do, others speak far differently, but always no matter what is going on in the dialogue there are ways I would phrase things and ways that I wouldn't. There are things I would allow in my writing and things I wouldn't. The way I craft sentences, the pacing of my writing, these are the things that make up voice, not the way I speak or make my characters speak. I think far too many writers mistake dialogue for "voice."
--How would you describe your unique writing voice? What is it that you do to make sure your writing "sounds like" you?
My writing style is simple, because that's what I am, a simple old cowboy. If I tried to write complicated literary fiction it wouldn't work because then I would be outside my voice. I write simple, fast-moving stories and even if I'm not trying to do so, my faith is still evident. As long as I stay true to my upbringing I don't have to worry about my voice, it'll be there.
--When reviewing submissions, what do you as an agent look for in others' writing? How do you identify a writer's voice?
I look for the same thing, is the writing natural? I don't try to identify a writer's voice and style but I can tell when it is contrived, when it is not natural. When it is forced it can seem pompous, the story doesn't seem to flow easily, it sounds like the writer is using words and phrasing they are not comfortable with. It feels very much as if they are trying to be something they aren't.
--What advice would you give to beginning/intermediate writers to help them find and develop their unique writing voice?
Don't over-think it. Tell your story, then look at what you've written and see if it sounds like you or if it sounds like you are trying to be someone else. Not the dialogue, we all try to be someone else in the dialogue and sound the way we feel that character should sound, but in the general tone and style of the writing. Does it feel natural, or does it feel like you are trying to write like somebody else? If someone were sitting there with you, is this the way you'd tell them a story?