How do you develop your voice for writing fiction?
Fiona posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I’m not a writer or anything, though I wanna be when I’ve finished school. But anyway, around 2 years ago I had this awesome idea for a story, but it was only recently (about 3 months ago) I became serious about writing it as a full blown novel. I planned the plot (written down)and have the characters (a very detailed disciption of each)I also know the ‘voice’. I’ve changed it many times and settled on writing from my main character’s perspective. It sounds great and it really shows what the character is like, but I find it almost a chore to write as. So, I am now in the dilema of going with the terrible ‘voice’ I used to use (before I became ‘serious’) that just doesn’t work and makes the plot kind of sluggish or this new one that does work beyond my expectations but is really hard to write in…um, help…please?
Randy sez: The most common thing that editors and agents tell me when I ask what they’re looking for is, “I’m looking for a writer with a great voice.”
So what is that pesky voice, anyway? And how do you develop it?
Larry Brooks deals with that very question in his forthcoming book, STORY ENGINEERING: Mastering The 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing. (Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books). According to Amazon, this book will release on February 24, 2011. Larry sent me a copy a couple of months ago to read for endorsement, and I really liked the book.
Larry identifies six core competencies:
- Story Structure
- Scene Execution
Voice is your particular way of putting words together. It’s your attitude. It’s your personality, turned into words.
That’s what voice is. How do you develop it? That’s a harder question, one I’ve been thinking about for years.
In his book, Larry notes that in sports, they say that “You can’t coach speed.” Speed is a genetic gift. You can coach an athlete and help him fix things that get in the way of his natural speed, but if he hasn’t got it, you can’t give it to him.
Larry argues that voice is similar: “You can’t coach voice.” I agree with him.
And yet there are things you can do to build your voice. If you want to develop your speed, then run. And learn how to avoid doing the things that slow you down. If you want to develop your voice, then write. And learn how to avoid doing the things that kill your story. Study the craft of fiction.
The key thing is that you probably are going to need to write quite a lot to really start finding your voice. I think mine took at least 2 or 3 years to start coming out in my writing. During those 2 or 3 years, I learned the fundamentals of the craft of fiction writing and quit doing things that were killing my story. In the process, my voice emerged naturally.
Fiona, yours will too. Write fiction. Write a lot of it. Develop those other core competencies. I divide them a little differently than Larry does. In my teaching, I’ve always focused on what I call the “Five Pillars of Fiction” which are StoryWorld, Character, Plot, Theme, and Style. These have a lot of overlap with Larry’s categories. (What I call “Plot” includes Larry’s categories of Concept, Story Structure, and Scene Execution.)
By the way, let me make a plug for Larry and his book: I don’t think anybody on the planet teaches story structure better than Larry Brooks. If you want the state of the art in story structure (his Core Competency #4), then check out his web site at www.StoryFix.com.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.