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That Thing About Voice - Donna Everhart

Donna Everhart

That Thing About Voice

If you’ve spent time reading about the craft of writing, eventually you’re going to run across an article about one particular aspect of it that many find hard to achieve – especially new writers.   You’ll read things like,  “you need to have a voice” or, “you need to find your voice,”  in order to stand out, or to be unique from other writers.

But, what does this mean exactly?  Like a fingerprint, each of us has our own unique personality, our own way of speaking and interacting with others.  Putting thoughts and ideas down in writing can reflect this individuality – and – there is a difference with what “voice” you use.  That difference is whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction.   In all the articles/books I’ve read so far – I’m not sure I’ve seen this distinction or clarification made.

For non-fiction,  when you write using your voice,  it simply means that you’re using the same words you’d use in your everyday conversations, and you’re structuring your written sentences like that too.    For instance, if you find that you’re writing with a lot of flair and fancy words, would you really say it the way you just wrote it if you were standing in front of someone?   Writing with your individual voice should be writing just like you and I were having a conversation.   If you’re trying too hard to impress by using words you typically don’t use, or if you’re writing in a way that isn’t normal to how you would really talk, then, you aren’t using your “voice.”

(Of course, I could get funny here and write this post more like, “If you ain’t using them everyday words you always use, then you ain’t writing with your voice.”  Because…, you know, I do use the word “ain’t” here and there in my everyday dialogue with folks, but what the hell, I can fix that when writing with seriousness, right??)

I suppose the big question is…, how are you going to stand out writing non-fiction when most everyone here on God’s green earth structures their sentences the same exact way?  What will help you achieve the ever elusive uniqueness given that?  Look at these sentence.   Would you ask these questions the same way?  Probably not and, that’s the key.

Now, for fiction.  Writing with voice in fiction is more fun – at least to me it is.  That’s because you aren’t writing with your voice, you’re writing in the voice of your main character (MC).  You have to get them in your head, and you have to think about how they would say it.  Now, some of your own personality might come through here, but the thing is to consider the personality traits you’ve given your MC.  Are they the quiet sort, or real talkative?  What kind of habits do they have,  likes/dislikes?  Anything you use to create your MC should drive that distinctive way they have of communicating to the reader.

Here are examples of the “voices” of my MC’s:


I wished now I’d put Sneaky Pete into my suitcase instead of pouring it down the sink since it appeared Mama needed a slug of it to calm her down.  A few seconds later, as we jerked our way down the mountain, Mama began cussing and looking in her rear view mirror every few seconds.  She had words coming from her mouth I hadn’t had the privilege of hearing before. 


When it happened, I won’t prepared.  The plain and simple truth was, this was something you could never be prepared for, no matter what.  I tell you though, it didn’t help none to think on it later and realize there was signs ignored.  Least that’s what Mary said.  I reckon she blamed me, which is why things got even worse afterwards.

These took some time to develop.   It wasn’t as if I sat down and began typing away.  It takes getting to know your characters, and if you can think of them like they’re real people, think about how they would react, how they would think, and what they would say given the situations you are placing them in, then you’ve got it nailed.

That’s their voice…, and yours.

2 thoughts on “That Thing About Voice”

  1. Well, i am thorougly pissed. My book didn”t even get an honorable mention. You suffered the same fate. I hope her ass gets sunburned.

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