I’ve talked about the importance of voice before (you can find that here), and about how finding your unique author’s voice takes time, patience and practise. I want to clarify author voice further in this post.
Ever since I was a kid I’ve read more than one book at a time. A book in every room means you’re never stuck for something to read, right? Recently I was reading Stephan King’s ‘Needful Things’ and Danielle Steel’s ‘Big Girl’. What struck me when I finished these books, within about a day of each other, was the difference in their authorial voice.
Both King and Steel are highly successful authors within their genres of horror and romance respectively. Both have had their books turned into movies (oh my God, The Shining was scary but IT…that was terrifying). And, both have a writing style that is as unique as a signature, honed over decades of writing.
King’s writing is rich and dense (like fruit-cake or Christmas pudding). You are with each character as you read, experience their happiness, pain and fear. When he writes that a character has a ‘crescent-moon smile’ you see it.
Steel’s writing is sparser (more like salad). There are no ‘crescent-moon’ smiles and you are very much the outside observer, being told the story rather than living the story. In fact, Steel often simply tells the reader what a character is thinking or how they feeling, rather than describing body language or visceral reactions. Steel tends to write stories that cover long sweeps of time (although, I don’t know if that’s true of all her books) and I suspect that’s why her voice is more economical with description.
Now you may not like both or either of these writers’ styles – have a look on GoodReads and you’ll find plenty of people who agree with you either way you go. But, their voices are distinct. Any book of theirs that you pick up, you know what you’re going to get and if a friend reads a book and tells you, ‘it’s a lot like Stephen King’, you’ll know what they mean.
That’s the beauty of voice, and that’s why it’s worth working on your own distinct voice. Take the time to read back over you work from a year, three years, eight years, ago and see how your voice has developed. Look at all your writing, not just your fiction or prose writing. Also, try to notice when you find your writing comes easily (usually when you’re writing in your voice) and when is it clunky or inconsistent (usually when you’re not)?
Remember that author voice is not that same as character voice. Author voice is about writing style, character voice is how each character speaks. It’s the difference between Homer Simpson and (Phillip .J.) Fry, but you just know they’re both Groening’s characters.
Developing your author voice is an important part of writing but it’s something that will develop as you work – so keep writing.