Hello, readers! Welcome to 2016! We hope the year has been treating you well. It’s been a mixed bag for the Ferrets so far, it seems. But life is life.
Today, we’re kicking off our 5-week series about ‘The Middle Years’. If you missed the intro, or need a reminder about what we’re tackling with these posts, you can read that here.
Voice and style are interwoven – so much so that I was nearly stumped trying to separate the two to explain them when I sat down to write this post.
They share the same end results (primarily, a unique, finished, readable product), but they function differently.
Here are basic definitions of each:
Writing Voice: what makes your writing stand out from others.
Technical Style: the guidelines that keep your writing within the accepted standards for your genre/industry.
Writing voice is something that stumps many writers – especially new ones. I can’t tell you how many things I read that said, essentially, “Finding your voice is so important!” but didn’t expound on how to do so, or what ‘voice’ even meant.
‘Voice’ is one of those things that is so easy it is often over-complicated because surely it couldn’t be that easy, right?
Voice is simply how you ‘say’ things to your readers. It’s it the types of words you choose, how you construct your sentences, how you describe – or don’t describe – things in a way that only you can.
It’s like when you’re talking to a friend – you both have a distinctive way you speak. Both can be correct, but still sound completely different because of how you say your words, where you pause, and how you emphasize syllables. (So, really, just think of a book as a really long speech. :P)
About a year ago, I picked up a draft that I hadn’t touched in probably three or four years. I was expecting it to be awful when I read it, because I know that I’ve learned a lot and grown as a writer in that time.
To my surprise… it wasn’t awful.
The story itself definitely had some structure and character growth issues (just like every first draft), but what struck me the most was how much I liked the writing voice I had established at that time. I liked it better than my current writing voice.
Somewhere along the way, I got bogged down. I started writing, subconsciously, according to what I felt other people wanted to read, voice-wise, from me.
There was always this voice in the back of my head going, “But you can’t write it that way, it’s not good enough that way.”
I read a lot of stuff, for some reason, about too much description being a bad thing, and instead of letting that slide off and continuing to write, I began to skimp on description. Before long, I noticed that I had hardly any description at all, and so now I have to retrain that habit.
Part of it has been learning to embrace my writing speed. Or lack thereof.
I hear so much about writers needing to be constantly finishing books, so that when they’ve either signed a contract, or decide to self-publish, they are able to get as much material out as quickly as possible to their audience, and build a following.
I can’t do it. I’ve tried. There’s nothing that slows me down more than telling me I need to hurry up. My writing suffers for it.
Technical style is an easy diversion from the story, at least when you’re drafting.
This is one of the reasons I love NaNoWriMo so much, despite needing an outline desperately. Once I have an outline down (you know, my road map) I can speed along just fine. If you’re writing often, the important aspects of technical style become second nature as you practice.
But you need to finish things, especially in The Middle Years. The more drafts you finish – drafts of different stories, not the same story rewritten over and over – the more potential you have. Both for submissions, and as material you can look back to for your own progress.
Technical style is important, and you should absolutely be familiar with the demands of the genre or industry you are trying to break into. However, especially in fiction writing, the story is more important. I’ve never met or heard of a literary agent or publisher who would take a polished, perfect, boring story over an interesting one in need of a bit of revision.
The best way to improve your technical style is to read and write. A lot.
Read in your genre. See what’s being done, what isn’t being done, and ask yourself why.
Some things can be ignored. So what if a certain type of story hasn’t been done in that genre before? There’s a first time for everything, and it might just be the next bestseller.
Some things are important – genres come with certain expectations. If I pick up a fantasy book, I expect there to be some sort of fantastical element, whether its elves, magic, or monsters.
The Middle Years can be daunting. I’ve honestly been in them for a while, and sometimes it’s hard to get up and write because it feels like it’s going nowhere.
This is where your love of writing will hold you steady. Re-read your older work, or a favorite book that sparked that desire to write. Find what you loved about it before you got hampered down with the ‘do and do nots’ that writing offers in an endless bounty.
Please ask questions or leave a comment! Is there something that needs clarifying? Do you need some help figuring out how to implement any of these things? Have a suggestion? Chime in!