Finding Your Voice and Writing Viewpoint
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut… If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” —Stephen King
If you read a short story by Bukowski or Bradbury, you immediately recognize them by their styles. Their voice is recognizable - if you’ve read previous work by these great authors of course.
Every author has a style. How that style comes across depends on the choices you make, experience, and influences.
Don’t worry too much about finding your writing ‘voice’ though, it’s going to be an amalgamation of the things you’ve read and what appeals to you in prose.
What styles of prose do you like and why? How do particular writers you like enhance their stories through their styles?
To me, my style comes from studying the craft of writing, following writing courses, reading lots of (Medium) articles and analyzing the work of my favorite authors.
Finding Your Style
“If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting.” —Ray Bradbury
Study the Greats
When Japanese writer Haruki Murakami started writing, he disliked his Japanese prose and felt something was off. He decided to write in English, but he was far from fluent. He only used the words at his disposal to express what he wanted. Murakami found this a very efficient method. This is how his style and rhythm was created.
He realized he didn’t need to use difficult words or styles to say what he wanted to say. I couldn’t agree more with his findings. Recently, I’ve published an article about how you can optimize your writing toolbox. Language, grammar, and style are a part of that toolbox.
This a very original way of developing a style, but you don’t have to try writing in Japanese to polish your English prose. One of the best things you can do in developing your style is to read good books! In terms of this advice, I’m in great company, authors like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Ray Bradbury feel this way too.
Study the greats, the classics, and the revered authors, but do so wisely. Don’t read War & Peace because of the fact that it’s a classic, read it because you like the story. There are hundreds of good classic books out there, but not all will be your cup of tea. Personally, I loved The Three Musketeers, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Jane Eyre.
Naturally, the writing style of the classical writers differ from modern-day authors, therefore I suggest you do the following:
• Study one classic from before 1900
• One classic from the last century
• And one from the last decade or so
What makes these books such classics? Is it because of their themes, their tone, the characters, style? How come they have stood the test of time? Can you find patterns between those three books?
Find patterns, find what you like in these stories and learn from them. Consciously or unconsciously, you will take what you have learned from these stories and put it into your own work.
When English is Not Your Native Language
I haven’t studied English or literature and English is my second language. Granted, in High School I participated in an advanced English class for three years and I’ve lived in the UK for a while. This helped immensely. When English is your second language, begin with what you know. Don’t start writing above your level. It wouldn’t make sense.
Study the texts of great authors. Preferably authors and stories you love and admire. Study the different past tenses in English. How do these authors use them? Pick up on your grammar. Look at how these authors construct their dialogue. I will dive into this in a future post. (Note: this is usually in the present tense).
What words do they use to express how people interact with each other? Notice that the way people talk in dialogue usually differs for every character has his or her own character traits and way of expressing themselves.
Study and write down words you’re not familiar with. LOOK THEM UP! What expressions are used? Never directly translate expressions from your home country. It will be a mess. In Dutch we have a saying for when the truth — finally — comes out. Translated it goes like this: now comes the monkey out of the sleeve. I think I’ve made my point here.
In the works of your favorite authors, notice how they describe people and places. How do they set up a scene? Identify how authors play around with plot twists and suspense. How do they make sure that you HAVE to continue reading?
In my opinion, the greatest writing school is reading work you admire and study the texts carefully. Oh and one more thing, don’t aim to be the next Oscar Wilde, be realistic.
Viewpoint and Tense
In this part, I’d like to discuss some general things about the style you use in your short stories.
First of all: past or present. Most authors write in the past tense, me too. I find reading stories in the present tense to be weird, but if it’s your thing, go for it! It’s about your style.
One tip: avoid using the passive voice in your prose, your readers will thank you.
There are different viewpoints in writing:
• 1st person: a present narrator tells the story, “I”. This is the most used style.
• 2nd person: “you”, this is generally not used.
• 3rd person limited: showing the world through the eyes of one character at a time. Similar to the first person viewpoint, this is also one of the most used styles.
• 3rd person omniscient: all-knowing narrator
I write in 3rd person limited. I’ve never even tried the other ones. It could be fun to try and stretch my creativity. I might have slipped in an omniscient sentence in some stories though…
A great advantage of using the 1st person viewpoint is that this feels very immersive to your reader. It feels natural and allows them to crawl into someone else’s mind. As a writer it allows you to completely focus on your character.
I write in 3rd person limited because it feels natural to me. I think that should be your guide. What feels natural to you?
It’s also a great way to use multiple viewpoints in your story, but you have to make sure every viewpoint is distinct.
Study, read and experiment! Make choices and stick by them. Who knows, in the future your style could be as distinctly recognized as Bukowski’s.