Writing Academy, Memoirs, Novels, Short Stories, Book Proposals

New York City Writing Coach

Gay Walley

It’s all in the voice

“An original writer is not one who imitates nobody, but one whom nobody can imitate.” Francois Rene de Chateaubriand

The voice is so important. The voice of the story sets the tone and the mood of the story. How do you get a good voice for a story?

By being natural and true to the story.  By not thinking, “I must sound like a professor or Dickens or Oscar Hijuelos.” No, you must write in a relaxed way, in the persona of the story. If you write in first person, write in the sound of your character and be simple about it. If you write in the third person, still be relaxed in your voice, open, detail oriented, as if you are speaking to someone. Your language of course will be better than if you were speaking, but the effect should be that when I open your book, I feel I am being communicated with. We are in a relationship, I am in the story.

Thoreau says it beautifully: “As for style of writing, if one has anything to say, it drops from him simply and directly, as a stone falls to the ground.”  Robertson Davies said it otherwise: ” The most original thing a writer can do is write like himself. It is also his most difficult task.”  Or, as Gertrude Stein said, “I write for myself and strangers. The strangers, dear Reader, are an afterthought.”

In other words, wash out all pretentiousness and look to be honest about your characters and what they feel.

The voice of the novel is the seduction. It’s what we curl up around a book and listen to. But don’t be confused. It’s not a place for you to vent your political opinions or your anger at your mother. You have to tell a story, and show pictures of other people being who they are and living out their complexities and the vagaries of their circumstances. We have to hear them and see them. If you are writing an internal story, then the internal story must be told in images and pictures too.

Your language is a big part of your voice.  You must write in a natural voice, but you must show your “chops” in language. When we speak, we are lazy. “ I ran into Annette and she said, How’s it going?” This is boring on the page. You need to have style in your language and this contributes to your voice. The reader wants to be enthralled by your word choices, images and point of view, be it you are writing in first or third person.

Your voice will let the reader know if the book will be humorous, philosophical, fast paced, eccentric, highly sensitive about detail. All that will be evident by your voice in the first paragraph.