|Padma writing on the dock|
One of the most vital aspects of timeless writing is voice. Every serious reader, every writer has (or must develop), a strong sense of what voice is. Yet, like time, voice eludes definition.
Of course, I’m going to try and define it. To me, voice is the promise of the first page – the texture of the writing. It’s like the background music in a movie – or the wash an artist lays down to prepare the painting – something that isn’t entirely visible and yet pervades the creation.
What’s the best way to develop your own voice?
Here are three tips I hope will help.
1. Read, read, read the voices of others. Immersing yourself in books with rich voices will help you hone your own.
While I don’t for a mini-second suggest that any writer try to copy another writer’s voice – I do recommend, strongly, that every writer read as much as is humanly possible.
The best way to get a feel for voice and to develop your own is to tune in to the music of the written word – by reading writers with strong voices.
- Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999);
- M. T. Anderson’s Feed (Candlewick, 2002);
- Kathi Appelt’s The Underneath (Atheneum, 2008);
- Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan (HarperCollins, 2012);
- Da Chen’s Colors of the Mountain (Anchor, 2001);
- Carolyn Coman’s What Jamie Saw (Front Street, 1995);
- Margarita Engle’s Drum Dream Girl (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015);
- Karen Hesse’s The Music of Dolphins (Scholastic, 1996);
- Jerry Spinelli’s Milkweed (Random House, 2003);
- Malinda Lo’s Ash (Little Brown, 2009);
- An Na’s A Step from Heaven (Front Street Press, 2001).
2. Experiment with sentences and paragraphs, if not entire stories.
|Padma writing on the deck|
Each of your characters has a different voice. Unless the novel is written from multiple points of view, however, you usually spend most of your time narrating in the voice that, most likely, comes closest to your own.
This is fine.
If you are writing close third or first person point of view, try switching bodies.
If you tend to write long, luxurious sentences, try writing a paragraph with short sentences and sentence fragments. And the other way around.
My second novel, Island’s End (G.P. Putnam, 2011), is written in lush, rich prose.
My third novel, A Time To Dance (Nancy Paulsen, 2014) is written in lean spare prose. I learned a great deal by journeying from one style to another – and I love both, I’ll admit.
I also love the in-between, which is where, I think, my debut novel, Climbing The Stairs (G.P. Putnam, 2008) fits.
3. Respect your heart, not just your head.
I was an oceanographer. Now I’m a writer. I can attest to the fact that not even scientists are always objective.
|Padma working on a research ship|
The field of literature is largely if not entirely subjective. Thus, it’s only natural that we often subjugate our own responses to a piece in favor of revered reviewers’ opinions.
Yet if you wish to carve your own unique niche, you must let yourself love whatever you love.
When you discover these lesser known books and less celebrated authors, you begin to celebrate your own opinions. And as you grow comfortable with your individual taste, your confidence as a writer also grows.
Padma Venkatraman is the author of three novels, which together garnered 12 starred reviews, and were included in over 50 shortlists.