Get to Know Your Author Voice

man holding papers in front of his face

Words That Make Your Reader Feel

Your author voice connects your reader to your story through vocabulary, syntax, tone, and point of view that make your phrases, sentences, and paragraphs flow. Your author voice comes through to the reader through either third person narration or the character point of view in the novel.

When you put all that together, your author voice is instrumental in how your reader feels as they experience your novel. Voice is the icing on the cake of your characters and plot. If you’ve ever experienced a child or a spouse wait eagerly to lick the beaters after you mixed icing, you know how enticing good icing can be.

Voice is how you tell the story. 

“The most durable thing in writing is style,” said novelist Raymond Chandler, “and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time.”

Hard, Soft, Smooth, or Edgy

Voice comes through syntax, tone, and vocabulary and also with recurrent themes, mood, and worldview. 

Raymond Chandler books embody a hard-boiled view of the world and people, while the syntax is brisk and crisp.

from The Big Sleep

by Raymond Chandler

Opening of Chapter One

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved, and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

Ann Cleeves stories delve into the hearts and mind of characters while establishing a sense of place. 

From Wild Fire

By Ann Cleeves 

Emma sat on the shingle bank and watched the kids on the beach below build a bonfire. They’d dragged pieces of driftwood into a pile; it was something to do to relieve their boredom. Nothing much happened in Deltaness. It was too far from Lerwick for an easy night out, and the buses stopped long before the bars closed. The night was clear and still and the light drained slowly away. In another month it would be midsummer. Emma was there because she was bored too. When she was a child she’d longed for boredom, for quiet, normal days free from tension. School and homework, and meals with the family that didn’t end in anger, shouting or worse. Now, she thought, she’d inherited a need for excitement, a longing to fill her days with action and challenge, to provoke a response from the people in her life. A need to make things happen.

Two first paragraphs with completely different author voice.

But, if you read in the mystery genre, you know that author voice comes in a wide variety. What’s important for you as a writer, is developing your author voice.

Your Author Voice

Once a reader experiences your author voice and like it, they are predisposed to like your next book, and the one after that. They may not know about author voice, but they may say something like, “I like the way he tells the story,” or “I enjoy reading her books” without being able to say why.

When you are just starting out as a writer, it’s hard to know what your voice is or how to improve your author voice. 

There are several ways to get to know your author voice and make it stronger.

  1. Consistent Narrative Voice. Choose your narrative point of view and stick with it. Whether it’s third person or first person point of view, keep writing as you master how to supply details and share what’s in a character’s head. Experienced authors switch between points of view, but as a beginner, learn to master one.
  2. Choose Your Language Form. Decide whether you want to use formal language or more colloquial patterns. Will you always be grammatically correct? Will you use local or regional expressions? Will you go in and out of your characters’ heads. Adopt a policy about your word choice so you language remains consistent. (This doesn’t include character dialog.)
  3. Emphasize Description or Dialogue. Do you balance between description and dialogue, or tend toward one or the other. There’s no rule here. It’s your preference. Just know how you write and keep it consistent.

Learn How Your Voice Feels

One of the best ways to experience how your author voice feels is to read your story out loud. Does it flow? Is it staccato? Are your sentences long or short? Are your verbs active? Hearing your story, your voice, tells you how readers experience your writing.

Aim For Consistency

There are no rules for author voice. It’s how you tell your story. But, to engage your readers, to make them feel satisfaction reading your story, you want to remain consistent. For example, with narration, choose a style – formal or colloquial. Jumping around will put off your reader.

The more you write, the better acquainted you’ll be with your author voice. Keep writing.

Join fellow writers in the Mystery Writers Studio to talk about your writing.

Photo by Tetiana SHYSHKINA on Unsplash

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