Writing Excuses 7.18: Discovering your Voice

James Artimus Owen joined us in front of the live audience at LTUE in February where he was the Guest of Honor. He wanted to talk with us about “voice,” and specifically how to find yours. We talk about the paradox — voice is critical, but new authors who focus how to develop theirs often end up flubbing it.

Each of us gives examples from our own work, and the result is (hopefully) encouraging. You can find your own voice, and if you focus on learning the tools of good writing that discovery is going to come quite naturally. The magic lies in recognizing it.

But we have more to offer than just platitudes. There are plenty of tips and tricks contained herein, so have a nice, long listen or two.

The Cookie That Can Only Be Baked In My Brain: A meme originally baked in the brain of the inimitable R. Stevens. Here, then, is the chocolate chip of credit where it is due.


Find a writing buddy, swap stories halfway through, and then compare notes.

Here, There Be Dragons, by James A. Owen, narrated by Stephen Langton

15 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.18: Discovering your Voice”

  1. So Brandon, how to the Alkatraz books jive with the rest of your writing? It’s a fundamentally different style – it actually seems to fit your jocularity on this podcast a lot more than the writing voice of your other books. Both are good, but so far, I’d almost believe Al’s claim that the one writing the book is stealing your name. (That’s about as far as the plausibility of the narrative goes, thus far.)

  2. Brandon – You literally swapped stories 3/4 through with Jordan. He supplied some bits of “the gathering storm” and you wrote the rest. Now a few years after writing it, can you see which pieces he’s written and which pieces you have? From a voices POV.

  3. Though I’m certainly no expert, as I couldn’t begin to tell you what my “voice” is, it seems to me that the first key to establishing your voice is learning to write so that the words don’t get in the way. I recently read a sample from an acquaintance looking for feedback and, while I couldn’t tell him how to fix it, his word choice and patterns seemed affected. It was not only not how he would talk, it was not even how anyone would talk.

    So I would suggest the first step toward voice is to learn to write sentences that sound natural, that flow smoothly, and don’t draw attention to themselves. Next would be to learn to maintain consistency from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, chapter to chapter. I think at that point you would be able to say you have a “voice” to you writing, even if you’re not yet conscious enough of it to be able to change that voice to better match the story you’re writing.

  4. From personal experience, I seem to write a blend of everything I’ve read and a little bit of ‘me’. What I’ve recently read and what I liked reading come out more…

    So I have occasional Rowling-like amusingly over-the-top descriptions:
    @Harry Potter: “Dudley had reached roughly the size and weight of a young killer whale.”
    @A story I’m working on: “Idrial’s parents, among others, used the school’s French Fries as highly effective insect repellant.”

    I suppose: you write what you read.

  5. I think that you write what you read, Robinton, but even more you write what you respond to/love out of what you read. It’s the stuff that sticks that then comes out in your own writing.

    I also think voice is very much connected with persistent engagement with prose, poetry, ideas, life. Which is what, as I recall, Dan said.

  6. Which tools in the tool box of writing have you learned and how have you chosen to break or bend–how and when do you use them? Do you tend to repeat those patterns across stories? That’s author voice.

    The story voice is usually set by the theme and overall tone. What emotion are you trying to leave behind with communicating this story? That’s the story’s voice.

    I break the author voice because I don’t like it when the author voice breaks the story. That sucks. I want to write whatever story I want to write with a passion without the author voice getting in the way (I’ve seen that happen too–where the author voice contradicts the story, so it doesn’t work), so my stories tend to sound radically different from each other.

    Though I also get accused of being a chameleon in real life too…

  7. I like that prompt. I actually did that with one of my fellow NaNo-ers last November at a local write in. We were both stuck- knew where we wanted to go, but couldn’t quite get there. So we switched stories for a few minutes and each wrote the end of the scene. It was great and I could definitely tell which part was her contribution.

    I’ve also found that I tend to assimilate other authors voices to a certain extent. If I read a trilogy, for example, and then try to go and write my own stuff, I might find that I’m using different words, or structuring the sentences the way they did, or even presenting characters in a similar fashion. I sometimes find that I have to go back and re-read other things I’ve written to restore my own voice.

  8. I’ve never actually worried about voice because, as you say, it will come naturally. It’s like drawing, you have a style, which sits on top of your skill and technique.

    I think it would be difficult not to have a voice, unless you over think it and try to emulate the flavour of the month or a favourite author. Even then, I’m sure a voice would come through.

  9. @WHM: “but even more you write what you respond to/love out of what you read.” Yes… I agree.

    @Joe Zieja: “Thanks for what you do!” YES! AND HOW!

    Also, a shout-out to Mike Barker for the transcripts!

    And Howard Tayler, I’m finally getting around to reading the Schlock Mercenary archives, so I owe you a massive round of applause!

  10. I found a link to here on Brandon’s blog and just (over the last couple days) listened to the all of ssn 7. Writing a book has always been a goal, but somewhat of a pipe dream. After listening, I feel like it is now approachable. Totally pumped for NaNoWriMo.

    Oh, and thanks for the voice lessons.

  11. Longtime listener, first time commenter.

    Love the show but the audio is a little unpredictable.
    I often have to listen on my iPhone with the volume on max.
    Then out of nowhere there will be one loud comment that blows out my ears and threatens to make jelly of my mind-grapes.
    Is it possible to turn the volume up on your end so I can reside in the midde of my dial?

    Also I love the stitcher app but your show doesn’t work on there anymore.

    Thanks again and great show,

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