Write Using Your Own Voice

October 28, 2014

Writers are readers, so naturally they favor the voice of certain authors over others. One of your challenges is to make sure you’re writing in your own voice, not a clone of one of your favorites.

Here are some tips to help you.

  • Realize you see things from a perspective that is unique to you. When I taught my college writing courses, I set a cube in the middle of a rectangular table. Students sat in chairs around the table. I had students look at the object from their perspectives and write down the description of what they saw. What they didn’t realize is there were different images on each side of the cube. Thus, each description was different. The point of the lesson? They all saw the same thing, but their descriptions differed.
  • Understand everyone won’t adore everything you write. I just finished Gone Girl and liked some of it, but not all. Regardless of what I think, the book is a huge success. The local library’s request list for it is over 300 patrons long.
  • Remain true to yourself in your writing. Your writing is based on your thoughts, experiences, and how you express yourself. Of course there are rules and conventions you must follow in writing, but make sure you stay true to you in the process.
  • Read your writing out loud. When I was a member of the Minneapolis Writers Workshop, the writers read their work out loud to the rest of us. It was amazing how often writers made changes after hearing their words read aloud.
  • Be aware of the pitfalls of contemporary references in your writing. Thrillers taking place during the Cold War may still be fun to read, but probably aren’t a first choice for many of today’s readers. On the other hand, most likely it was the Cold War references that kept the story from being bland. You get to decide whether to write your story with universal appeal (no contemporary references) or spice it up by adding contemporary flavor. Just be aware there are pitfalls when you add things that date your story.

Hope these tips help you write using your own voice. Happy writing!

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Four Criteria for Choosing Words

October 7, 2014

Sometimes we get so caught up in turning out good stories or articles that we forget all writing begins with word choices. We construct our sentences and paragraphs using the same raw materials–words. Here are four criteria to consider when choosing which word you’ll use in your writing.

  1. Tone. Determine whether you want to convey a tone that’s thoughtful and observing from a distance or one that’s immediate and more involved.
  2. Freshness. Good writers know their writing succeeds when it produces mental images that draw on the reader’s senses. As important as action is, the reader’s perception of the situation (scene, dialogue, character, plot, etc.) is what makes the story memorable. Use words that keep your reader awake and seeing your story.
  3. Consistency. Although you differentiate your characters (whether writing fiction or non-fiction) through description and dialogue, your readers feel each character has a place in the story. Good writers use different scenes in their novels and different sentence structure in their stories and articles. Yet, all the writing belongs in the same book or article. My point is there should be variety, but also consistency.
  4. Rhythm. Listen to how a word you choose sounds as you decide whether or not it fits in your sentence. Pay special attention to words at the end of a sentence or paragraph and to words in short sentences. Why? Because readers “hear” those words more than words strung together to create longer sentences.  You can test this yourself when you read. Do you pay as much attention to words in long sentences as you do to those in shorter ones? Do words at the end of the sentence or paragraph resonate longer than others?

The only way I know to improve your writing is to write. The more you write, the more you’ll automatically apply these four criteria. As I used to tell my students, “Those who practice their writing, for the most part, don’t get worse.” Happy writing!