A Writers Voice

A writer’s ‘voice’ is usually a product of his word choice, phrasing
and pacing. Stephen King, for example, uses a lot of internal
monologue with his characters and is a cognitive rather than visual
writer. Dean Koontz uses a tremendous number of metaphors and
similes in his text. Read a page of each and you can tell one from
the other.

Also, a lot of writers use favoring expressions over and over
again. In every single James Lee Burke novel you’ll find the
terms "fecund", "chemical green", etc.

Some writers can change their voice -either because they aren’t
locked into one, or because their particular skill set doesn’t rely
on a central voice for storytelling. Richard Matheson is an
example. His style for What Dreams May Come is totally different
than the voice he used for I Am Legend or Stir of Echoes. Other
writers deliberately change their voice with a new project, though
this takes a degree of effort. When I wrote PATIENT ZERO, the novel
I have coming out from St. Martins in March 2009 I chose a lean and
nourish style that was unlike the much more ornate style I used for
my trilogy of supernatural thrillers (GHOST ROAD BLUES, DEAD MAN’S
SONG and BAD MOON RISING). But it was a conscious choice and I
spent a while reading sections of old and new works aloud to look
for similarities so I could deliberately change them.

I like experimenting with variations on voice, and I find it easiest
to do this experimentation in short forms. When I wrote the short
story Pegleg and Paddy Save the World for the History is Dead
anthology I wanted a light, comedic voice and that took some doing
because it isn’t my natural style. Earlier this year I was asked to
contribute a short story to an antho of West Virginia tales based on
folklore, and I decided to write a story in which Sherlock Holmes
visits the US and solves a crime tied to a folkloric event. That
was a deliberate experiment in voice because I wanted to see if I
could write in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle. To manage it I read
a ton of Sherlock Holmes stories and also fell back onto the useful
trick of reading things aloud: both Doyle’s stuff and my own.

Then I hand stuff over to one of my trusted `first readers’ and
asked him to see if it sounded like me or like Doyle.

I’m currently writing the sequel to PATIENT ZERO, so I have to
reclaim that noir-ish style; but at the same time I’m collaborating
on an urban fantasy novel with another author, and though we want
that to also have a noir feel to it we’re working to make sure that
it has it’s own unique voice.

It’s not easy, but the challenge is fun.

The most useful strategies are to read through your work and
highlight phrases that you know you tend to repeat. And then read
pieces from two or three separate works aloud. Those two steps
genuinely help.

-Jonathan Maberry


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