style and voice

In writing, much is said about voice and style. For that's what publishers are looking for, but they can't really define it for you. They know it when they see it, but they can't tell you what it is or how to get there.

Style... unique to an author--personality coming through. When I was in high school, I listened to Handel's Messiah so many times that I could easily pick out other music written by Handel. Because of style. I could differentiate between Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, and several other composers. 

A better example for today is comparing Metallica and Disturbed. Disturbed was greatly influenced by the classic metal bands, in particular Metallica. But they have a style all their own. Unique. A sound that you can't mistake.

The same goes for Evanescence. They're in the same genre--gothic--as Within Temptations, but one does not sound like the other. Each has its own style. Its own personality. Its own sound. And that is how it should be.

In the same way, when you pick up books by famous authors you can sense a difference. Some of it is turn of phrase, similar wording, the use of punctuation, or a particular cadence to the words. For example, Stephen King always impressed me with his direct manner of speaking. He didn't flower his words. He said what he meant, nothing more, nothing less.

We all have a style that is unique to who we are. We are not cookie-cutter people. And we are not cookie-cutter writers either. The world already has a Stephen King. And he has already given us so many of his books that we don't need you to try to emulate him. No, we need you to be you. Produce what comes from the deepest recesses of your spirit.

Life would be boring indeed if every flower was a purple rose, if every tree a maple, if every animal a monkey, and every person had red hair and green eyes.

Style can mature. Just as we grow, deepen, become stronger and wiser, so does our writing. It develops over time. You have to keep reading, writing, studying your art, living to the fullest, self-editing. 

Voice... unique to a character and is very closely linked to proper POV usage. Whether you are in first person or third person, you need to write from a single POV rather than the omniscient author POV.

Why? Because you are not in your story. You are not a character, and your expert knowledge on the plot and situation reminds the reader that this is just a story, crafted by an author sitting in front of their laptop. 

You don't want your readers to remember that. You want them to feel like your story is real. Part of doing this is by allowing the voice of your character to color everything that is revealed, from setting and descriptions to the development of non-POV characters and plot. This means that even when you are not writing dialog, your text will have the sound of someone speaking. Your readers can hear that voice in their heads.

Here is an example of voice taken from my book Scrolls:

     He hated blue coats. They were nothing but bones on the inside. Emotionless, sniveling poshes. Empty heads that follow the general's orders. Like robots.

     He'd dreamed about the day he would come face to face with one and beat the thing until blood poured from its dry veins. And now he had his wish. But he couldn't even pull the trigger.

Notice the use of fragments--sounds more natural as people don't always speak in full sentences--and how the character (in third person) describes the people labeled as blue coats. Even though it isn't even in first person, you can still see how the physical description is colored by his opinion. That's voice.


...some description from your writing that includes voice. I'd love to hear from you.


  1. I looked at the wall clock. Twenty to two. There was time for another pint. I drained the dregs from my glass and pushed it across the bar.

    "Same again Sir?"

    I hate obsequious barmen. Or barwomen. In fact, I hate nearly everybody with complete impartiality.

    The barman pulled another pint of Old Livery.

    "Throw in twenty Clearways as well please," I said, placing a handful of change on the counter.

    One of the good things about the widespread use of nano-technology is that beer can be tailored to heal your liver while it destroys your brain. Cigarettes can be made to clean your lungs while imparting the nicotine rush.

    I looked around the bar as I drained half the pint. The business crowd had gone after gulping their lattes and baguettes. The only ones remaining were the usual collection of misfits, drunks, saddos and perverts; sitting hunched, solitary in morbid introspection. I decided that I still only fit into two of those categories.

    Lighting up and blowing smoke at the ceiling, I reflected on the good old days when passive smoking was optional. Now the health benefits made it compulsory for all public places to encourage smoking. Which meant that the predominant colour scheme of all pubs was yellow and tan. Like shit.

    I finished my pint and looked at the wall clock. Twenty to two. Bloody thing had stopped. I fished a broken-strapped watch out of my pocket.

    Half past two.

    Half an hour late back from lunch.

    The hell with it.

    I pushed my glass across the bar.

    "Same again."

    And again.

  2. Nicely done. Very nicely done.Great example of voice. I can hear him speaking. I can hear the cynicism.


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