Finding a Voice

Character dialogueJust ask Christina Aguilera or Cee Lo Green. Finding the right voice isn’t as easy as it seems.

One of the hardest things for me to do with my writing was to find a voice. It wasn’t until I started writing a blog on a regular basis that I discovered I have my own style of writing.

In case you haven’t read a lot of my posts, my voice is pretty straightforward. I use a lot of short sentences. I make a lot of asides. And I use conjunctions at the start of sentences — a grammatical no-no, but it’s the way people talk.

When I write stories, my voice isn’t the important one. I hear a lot of voices. I hear the voices of my characters as they talk to one another. I hear them when they argue. I hear them when they tell me to kill the cast of Jersey Shore… oops. No, those are different voices… (Kidding, folks!)

I love writing the way people talk. And that’s one of my strengths — whether it’s the internal monologue of the narrator or dialogue between characters.

If writers can capture the true essence of the way people speak, they can more easily pull readers into their world. Gregory Mcdonald did this excellently in his Fletch series of books. You get a sense of rhythm from the conversation that pulls you into the world of fast-paced journalism. Likewise, Stephen King has a way of mimicking slow New England speech patterns, sometimes with a simple “Ayup.”

In my youth, I thought that capturing a voice meant writing in a way that reflected the local dialect. I began throwing out a lot of ending Gs, so people were “tellin’,” “thinkin’,” and “walkin’.” Believe me when I say, this is NOT the way to do it.

Instead, I learned to capture the way people talk by listening to the word choices they use, and how they construct their sentences. I know when a character should speak correct English, even if informally. And I know when a character needs to throw out all the rules of grammar because he or she doesn’t know (or care) how to speak properly. But I still use colloquialisms sparingly, and only to emphasize a particular character’s speech.

For me, the key is knowing my characters. After I live with a character for a bit, I start to understand who they are. Once I start to feel them, I can hear them as well. When they start talking to me during my morning routine — in the shower, brushing my teeth — I know I’m ready to commit them to paper.

Whether you’re trying to find your own voice or the voice of your main character, the best advice I can give you is to write. Write a lot. And when you think you’ve written enough, write some more. Write every day, and keep writing until you stop thinking about how to write. When the words flow out of your fingertips, into your keyboard, and appear on the computer screen without pausing at some little weigh station in your mind, you’ve probably found your voice.

And once you find your voice, keep writing.

Kevin Wohler is a copywriter and novelist living in Lawrence, Kansas. During the day, he works at a digital marketing agency in the Kansas City area. When time remains, he likes to tell stories of the weird and bizarre. And sometimes, he writes them down for others to read.

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