The Voice to Tell Your Story
I’ve lost my voice. Not the voice I speak with, but the one I use to tell my stories.
I only recently discovered my difficulties with voice when I got a few comments from the members of my critique group and the instructor of the essay writing course I’m taking that pointed out something was missing in my pieces. Because I’ve always thought I had a strong voice, I didn’t think much about it. It turns out, though, that I’ve given up my voice and replaced it with my need to sound like an expert. My essays are becoming no more than a factual recounting of events in my life, with little reflection or humor or with too much pushing and preaching. And so I’ve gone in search of that voice I once loved so much.
About a week ago, I read a post at Writer Unboxed on giving voice to characters that reminded me of what voice can do for a story. In the post, Allison Winn Scotch discusses how voice can be the thing that really brings a character to life and allows the character to better resonate with readers. While her post refers to fiction specifically, I think what she says can easily be applied whether you write novels, memoirs or essays.
In nonfiction, having a clear voice that is consistent throughout a work (and in some cases across works) allows readers to connect with you and understand you at a deeper level. The voice you use in your writing can also contribute to the tone of a piece. For example, if you generally have a humorous voice, your pieces will likely come off as less formal than pieces by someone who has a serious tone.
It is possible, and may be necessary, to alter your voice based on your audience. However, in doing so be careful not to lose some of your natural ability to connect with your readers. Remember, your voice generally comes out of who you are. In the nonfiction world, that usually means that your writing voice occurs naturally when you write the way you speak. This is where my essay writing has started to go wrong. I’ve been writing with a much more formal voice than I use in everyday conversation in hopes of getting some greater message across. But this change in my voice makes my pieces come out all serious and stuffy when I want them to be humorous and heartfelt.
In order to rediscover my voice, I’m experimenting with voice more in my writing. If you’d like to find your voice, you can try this, too.
Practice writing with the same voice you might use to speak with your friends and family. If you’re generally snarky, try letting some of that snark seep into your paragraphs. If you’re the jokester in your group, write a few one-liners into your story. There’s nothing stopping you from being as caustic, comedic or heartfelt in your writing as you are over coffee or at the dinner table. You can always edit later to rein in your voice if it becomes too overwhelming for the piece. But take it from someone who lost track of her voice for a while, it’s much easier to tone down your voice in future drafts than it is to add it back once you’ve completed a piece without it.
The more I write, the more I practice and play with voice, the better I am at recognizing the voice that tells my story best. That voice is the voice I want to nurture.