on this nebulous thing called voice

I believe we sometimes get so hung-up on the technical aspects of writing that we forget the reason we write is to tell a story. Reading all the books and blogs in the world can’t get you published if you don’t know how to tell a good story.

Don’t get me wrong, honing your craft is exceptionally important. You must master good sentence structure, because what’s the use of telling a story if you can’t communicate the themes within it? The reader must be able to understand what you’re trying to show them, and this is where the technical aspects of writing belong; however, one thing that can’t be taught is voice.

This nebulous thing called voice can’t be learned from a book, because the writer’s voice is intertwined in the telling of the story. Voice is about your worldview, your tone, the way you talk and communicate with others.

Once at a writing conference, the chatter revolved to the question in every writer’s mind: if you could write like anyone at all, who would it be? Oh, I had a list at that time, and at the top was Harlan Ellison. I wanted to write like Harlan Ellison more than anything else in the world. After I had extolled the virtues of Ellison’s stories and why I wanted to write like him, my agent at the time turned to me and said, “What about writing like Teresa Frohock? You’re a good writer and you should write like yourself, nobody else.”

I just sat there with my face hanging open and for once was rendered speechless.

It’s taken me this long to understand what he meant. You see, I will never be able to write like Harlan Ellison. I don’t have his anger, his edge, or the life experiences that fuse his words into biting prose. As much as I admire Lisa Mannetti and Gillian Flynn, my writing will never contain their sharp wit and verve. My voice isn’t like theirs at all. I might try to mimic them, but my prose will be a weak echo of theirs, and the reader will know he’s being fooled by a mime.

My job as a writer is to cultivate and nurture my own writing voice. My voice is a little sad, haunting, if you will, but it rings clearer with every story I tell, and it’s not always the same. Sometimes, my writing voice is sharp or angry, but it’s mine, and as I edit and experiment with different styles, my voice grows louder. As should yours.

So take a break from the rigors of technicalities and work on your voice. Write like you, because no matter what you write, your writing is special and your voice is unique. Encourage yourself to try writing in different styles until you find the flow of words that fits your story the best. The technical aspects of writing can be conquered along the way or tweaked once you’ve finished that first draft.

Don’t try to write like someone else. Write like you. Develop your voice and tell your story.

Tell your story.

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About T. Frohock

Please visit my web site at: www.tfrohock.com
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15 Responses to on this nebulous thing called voice

  1. ali says:

    Oh Teresa, I love, love, love this! Thank you! Just what I needed to hear today …

  2. Jonathan says:

    Amen. It’s so easy to drown in all the how-tos and supposed-tos and the don’ts. I feel like I have to constantly remind myself to get the story down and trust my intuition to guide my voice.

  3. Great post, Teresa. It reminds me of a conversation I was having with a singer. She said that at first you work hard trying to sound like the singers you admire. Then after a while you forget about that, and discover what your own voice sounds like. I’m tweeting this.

  4. kat magendie says:

    YES! Readers can tell when you are “trying too hard” or when you are not writing from Truths; when you are not comfortable in your own writing skin, it shows. Voice is my strongest friend when I sit down to write….

  5. Very good post! It is this one element – voice – that we truly have to give to the world through our writing. Thanks for the reminder to stay true and pay attention to our voice!

    • Hi, Anne, I am so delighted to see you here. Thank you so much for commenting. You and Kat both are right about staying true to who you are and your story.

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  7. tahliaN says:

    Yes, this is a good post on that all important ‘voice’ . My problem when I started writing my YA fantasy novel ‘Lethal Inheritance,’ wasn’t not having a voice, it was not being sure how to write that voice. ( Maybe it’s the same thing!) Mostly I had to learn to cut the clutter, but it wasn’t until I’d written the first draft of the second in the series that I had a sense that I had found my style. Even after masses of rewrites, I’m not sure if it comes through in the first one or not.


    • Hi Tahlia, I think you’re right: not knowing how to write in your voice is almost the same as not having a clear voice in your writing. I’ve had to really practice to get that voice correct for my novel.

  8. lawrenceez says:

    Very good post, Teresa! Thanks for sharing. I agree wholeheartedly. As I mentioned elsewhere, I tend to compare the words to music and the structure to dance, and I try to let the story tell itself.

    At the moment, I’m at the 70,000 word point of my second novel, very much enjoying the lyrical flows and contrasts.



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