7 Tips to Improve Writing Voice


As I get ready to put my preschooler on a big yellow bus for the first time, I’m excited and nervous for the two of us. I loved school, and I’m nostalgic while I relive those days vicariously through my son. But I’m also nostalgic for when he was eight months old. My husband was in Afghanistan, and it was just me and this little dude with an unfortunate 1960s haircut, scooting around on the floor at the speed of a freight train. How is he five years old already?

Some of your local school districts may have started school a month ago. Some started this week. Some haven’t started yet! Whether you’re already inundated with homework or you’ve been out of school for decades, you never have to stop learning. Indeed, you never should.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember when I did a guest post for Better Novel Project. That post was about writing dialogue, but I’ll let you in on a secret. The same methods you’ll use to strengthen your dialogue are the same you can use to strengthen your writer’s voice.

What is Voice?

People like to pretend that “voice” is this illusive, infamous enigma.

Voice is how your words sound.

It’s a combination of diction (word choice) and syntax (word order).

Everyone has a natural voice—it’s affected by culture, style, and education. By “education” I don’t mean just formal schooling, I mean what people read or listen to in their spare time, their experience, and their worldview (their personal philosophy which affects the way they observe and interpret the world).

Obviously as an editor, I’m a proponent of “good” grammar in formal writing. A standardized grammatical form allows for the best reading comprehension. However, fiction is not formal writing—that’s why people actually read it. Readers want authentic voices in their novels. Sometimes that means “improper” grammar.

I use scare quotes above, because there’s no such thing as good or proper grammar, just formal and informal. Grammar should only be prescribed when it will improve reading comprehension.

Of course, I do have some pet peeves, but as long as your formality/informality is consistent in consistent situations, many of my grammatical edits will be marked as subjective rather than objective “that was wrong, this is right” statements.

Back to voice. When asked how he would define it, a Milkweed editor said, “Good voice is something I’d pay to listen to.”

Good, consistent voice suggests a singular person is behind it. When I read a developed voice, I can hear what the audiobook might sound like. Is your text readable out loud? If not, the voice isn’t going to sound authentic. Your writing will seem like writing–you’ll be drawing attention to yourself and your diction or syntax rather than immersing your reader in the story.

So how do you write authentic voice? Read my 7 tips at Better Novel Project.

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