The Writer’s Voice – An Essential Guide to Better Writing

Do you remember your childhood days when a bedtime story was the high point of your day? I am sure that you had a favourite storyteller. Every child does. Mine was my grandma followed closely by my dad. The story might be the same, but it is the teller who makes it come alive. A story with every storyteller is a completely different experience. As we grow older, the verbal story is replaced by the written word. In this age of instant communication and the world wide web, we have such a vast array of writing to choose from making it even more difficult for a storyteller, or a writer in any genre, to stand out from the crowd.

The Writer’s Voice – A tool of the craft of writing

How often have you read an article and felt as if the writer is actually speaking to you? When you read your favourite novel, you probably feel that the author is telling you a story in person. Of course, there would have been instances when the connection between you, the reader, and the writer never happened. That is when we almost always relegate what we read to the back of our minds. What stands out are the pieces that we read where the voice of the author is loud and clear.

Yes, the voice. Even in writing, the holder of the pen has a voice that speaks to us. Some voices are bold and confident, some are quietly convincing, and some are witty and almost funny, but they are all unique. They bring the writer alive to a reader. They talk and the reader listens. The writer’s voice, hence, is one of the most important tools that we as writers use to craft our work.

A writer typing his story

What is the Writer’s Voice?

The voice of the writer in a work of fiction or non-fiction is the subtle quality that touches the readers and holds their attention. It is the defining characteristic of any writing but also something that eludes definition.

The Writer’s Voice is the element that bleeds from beneath the seemingly placid words and produces some kind of turmoil in the reader. The more it bleeds, the more it binds the reader to the writer.

The writer’s voice cannot be pinned down in words like grammar. It has no rules. Yet, I believe, it is the single most important thing that makes the difference between whether a reader will read your work till the last page or drop out after just a few. It is a flowing mix of vocabulary, syntax, style, tone, pace, and point of view, just to name a few. It can encompass so many things that are uniquely you. It is your identity that is subconsciously reflected through your words and how you arrange them.

Your “Writer’s Voice”, and why you need it

Your writer’s voice reflects the essence of who you are through your writing. As a writer, you need to be aware of your voice and hone it to make your writing better.

What is your voice? Can you create it?

Your voice is your identity. It is who you are. An exuberant, lively person speaks differently from a person who is calculative and cunning, or from a quiet and pondering person. Even within the bounds of the story, characters or the structure of an article, these people, as writers, will write in subtly different ways. Your persona that peeps through your writing is your voice.

We all have a distinct voice. Every email that you write, every Instagram story, Facebook status or WhatsApp message reflects you as a person. It is often quite easy to recognize a person by the way they write. As an example, if your husband were to text you from your daughter’s messenger, you would probably know by the first or second message that something is different. A couple of minutes into the conversation, you would definitely know what is happening. Similarly, if you have read several works of a writer, you would be aware of and even recognize their writing.

Formal writing is different. We edit and correct and change our sentences many times before the work goes in front of the readers’ eyes. Still, our identity is stamped into our words. Who we are, shines through. That is precisely why we need our unique voice- to make our work stand out, to mark it with the stamp of our own personality, to speak to the readers as “me” and not someone else. Now, you would ask how is it possible to write in your own voice for each of your characters. No, it is not. And the characters will not be believable or lovable if we do that. But even the way we make them different carries our own persona somewhere deep down in their personality. There are a million writers, and each one has a different way of creating villains and heroes and all the others in between.

You don’t like your voice, can you change it?

It is a bit like saying, I don’t like who I am so I want to become someone else. You can and should always improve yourself in every sphere of life but trying to become someone else never works. The same is true for your voice. You can improve it, hone your skills, master your craft but you will still be you. So no, do not try to change your voice. Honesty is always more appealing and impersonating anyone, whether real or imaginary, will always be less than convincing. Adapt, but don’t change into something unrecognizable. When you are being you, you are convincing. Your voice is strong and powerful. When you try to be someone who you are not, your writing will not be consistent with your persona, your essence will become diluted and that is something that will be communicated to the reader unconsciously. A voice that is not strong is not nearly as attractive.

You have many friends, but everyone is not your friend and you are happy with that.  As a writer, you will have many fans who love you for who you are but everyone will not be your fan and that is okay too. When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.

Should I change my voice for the audience?

I believe the key phrase is adapt, not change. Adapt to reach your audience the best way you can but don’t change who you are to do it.

Consider this. If you are a native speaker writing in English for people who know English only as a second or third language, you adapt by using shorter sentences, easier words, and fewer idioms. You write what they would understand but you don’t try and become them. It simply won’t work!

Or, if you are writing a book for children, you will use a different tone and vocabulary than you would with adults, just the way you would when you speak to a child. You will adapt to make things interesting for them without trying to impersonate a child.

Audience matters in the way you write. Your voice should be tailored to suit your audience. However, it should still remain “honestly you”.

Getting acquainted with your own voice

As a writer, I would love to know who I am but when I write, I go with the flow of my thoughts and emotions, I do not think much about being someone specific. I am too invested in the work in progress to be able to get an objective distance. So how do I get to know my voice?

What works best for me is to go back and read something I wrote a while ago when I have almost forgotten what I wrote in that piece. I try to read it as a reader, which helps me catch the patterns that are recurrent and unique to my writing style. Sometimes, I find a pattern that is downright irritating and I try to remove that from my future work. That is positive growth as a writer. Other times, I become aware of how my writing flows, in ways that might be appealing or neutral, and I become more educated about my own work as a writer.

I also learn more about my voice through the corrections that MS Word keeps throwing at me repeatedly. I learn from my errors and there’s a lot that I ignore about style. That is me and I want to let that get to my readers unadulterated by the impersonal correction software. I am who I am!

There are instances when I catch myself writing things in a way that is different from native English speakers because I still subconsciously think in my own language. For that matter, British English is way different from American English and that is a part of the voice of the writer from each region. My vote is to let that go through the edits. It is a part of your voice, let it shine.

How does having my own voice benefit me?

In a nutshell, having your very own strong writing voice-

  • Oozes confidence and that is attractive
  • Is consistent and honest and true.
  • Is recognizable and that is your USP
  • Will bring you your own tribe of dedicated fans
  • Will be more powerful in communicating thoughts and ideas because they are what you truly believe in.
  • Helps create trust and build strong relationships with your readers.
  • Is just you. You don’t really have to work at being you!

Wrap up

Just as a speaker’s voice does in live conversations, the writer’s voice establishes a rapport and bond with the reader. And as in life, a writer will not be liked or accepted by every person who reads their work, but that shouldn’t be the reason for you to dilute yourself. Your writer’s voice is your identity. That is what the readers recognize you by, and that’s who they relate to. Remember, they need not like you to be captivated by your writing. Many a time, a villain is the most interesting and compelling character of the story, isn’t it? So, be you, whoever you are (No, not a real villain!). That is your power. That is your craft. That is what your readers hunger for- the unapologetic you. Let your writing voice reflect you.


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