The Holy Grail

The one thing all writers should strive for is an original Voice; something that sets them apart from all other books.

Think about how when you listen to the radio, a lot of the songs sound very similar, but if a song comes on that you’ve never heard before, you know by the voice of the singer and the way the music was put together that this song is by Dave Matthews or Nickleback. You can just _tell_ the difference.

That’s what voice is in writing as well.

How to get there, though…

My journey towards that wasn’t a plotted, thought-out adventure, but more of an accident that I stumbled into. I think a good first step is to write.

Write. Write! WRITE!

Participate in Nanowrimo, not just for the sake of having something written, but because it lets you cut down the walls of your inner editor and just be _yourself_ on the page. Tell the story how you want to, rather than how you think someone else wants to read it.

Also keep in mind that unless you want your narrator to be a character in the story as well, you need to be nearly invisible. That’s not entirely possible. Your perceptions and opinions will be present in the book regardless of how much you think you stripped out. There is no way to be entirely unbiased, but that’s also part of your voice. The trick is to be a voice that adds to the story, rather than distracts from it.

Your voice cannot overwhelm the character’s voices. The story, in the end, is theirs, even if you’re technically the one telling it.

Also, do your research. Look at what’s been done before. If you want to write a non-fiction book, you’re not just going to make up stuff, right? You’re going to go out and read all the histories and studies previously done on the subject and come to conclusions of your own, based on the information you’ve gathered. How this applies to writing is that you need to read books in the genre you want to write. You need to look at how many other Fairytale Retellings there are and consider how you will make yours stand out. Why would anyone read your version of Beauty and the Beast over someone else’s when essentially they are the same as the original version. Unless you’re going back further than Disney’s version and starting from the source then recasting it in a modern setting.

This applies even if you’re writing about a completely original world. For example, Epic Fantasy. You need to generally know the tradition the genre comes from (Tolkien), what sets it apart from any other fantasy (a lot of walking), and where it has gone since then (from dragons being evil to dragons being talking friendly mounts like in PERN, and Dwarves having no women to Terry Pratchett’s version in which they just don’t go broadcasting their gender on a normal basis so everyone just assumes all Dwarves are men because they’re all hairy).

Then you need to research how to write. You need to know the rules to know how to properly break them. I’m going to be honest and admit that I never really studied how to sentences. My scores in grade school English classes were abysmal, partially because I didn’t care about school and I was bored, but also because the structure of sentences doesn’t interest me. Sentence structure is important, but should be co-pilot when it comes to getting your ideas across.

I can get away with having a word missing from that sentence in the paragraph above because it’s humorous and also adds to my point. Doing things like that all the time, however, is just going to annoy your readers because they have to work too hard to understand you.

Research how others have written certain types of scenes. Like action sequences, or epic descriptions of scenery that aren’t eye-wateringly boring. Find authors you think did it well and study how they did it. Salvatore does amazing fight-scenes. His secret is short sentences with a tight POV focus on one character. Mercedes Lackey does heart-breaking scenes exceptionally well. She does this by drawing readers into the character by making them relatable first, then following with the angst.

So do your research.

Your voice can also add to the story as the narrator, such as Douglass Adams and Terry Pratchett do, but there’s more to it than just being amusing by yourself. You can be funny in the narration by arguing with in-world gods, but again, don’t overpower your characters. Terry Pratchett for example is humorous, but his characters are _angry_. Legit. Low-key fury simmers beneath every word written on every page of his books, because Terry Pratchett is angry. He’s angry at rampant injustice and angry at stupid people who rule the world with their BS and lies. That’s his Voice. That’s the message he wants you, his audience, to hear.

Douglass Adams is angry about bureaucracy and BS that goes on in government. His characters have a rollicking good time roaming the universe, but you still hear him screaming about the system.

Anne McCaffery was determined to smash empathy and understanding of our fellow human beings into our heads with her words.

Mercedes Lackey believes in equality and that it is achievable without magic.

These attitudes are their Voice. Their way of weaving that into the story itself, behind the scenes, is what gives their work a depth and originality you notice as a reader even if it’s not consciously.