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Choose Your Words Carefully: An Author's Guide to Revising for Voice

My favorite part of the editing process is revising voice. I love to take a boring sentence and figure out how to inject it with “oomph” so it becomes a sentence only I could write. So how do I do that exactly? With a voice pass!

What Does a Voice Pass Entail?

When I do a voice pass, it’s usually after I’ve finished all the larger, macro revisions, but before I turn the book in to my editor. I go sentence by sentence, combing through the manuscript and forcing myself to find a unique way to rewrite every sentence that needs it. But you have to find a balance. Not every sentence needs to change. Too much voice is overkill. And sometimes a simple sentence works perfectly.

What to Change

• Descriptive sentences. In a first draft, I might be lazy and keep the description simple. “The trees swayed.” But in revisions, I try to turn it into something more interesting. “The skeletal trees perform a macabre dance set to the symphony of the wind.”

• Action sentences: I’m a big fan of a perfectly placed verb to provide a visual image that also doubles as enhancing voice. Original sentence: “I walk to Kimmel’s desk to get information about my project.” Revised sentence from Mind Games: “My whole body is keyed up and I must look like a feral animal as I bound toward Kimmel’s desk in desperation for any information he might have about my project.”

• Dialogue: Banter is my friend and I try to run with that where possible to make the scenes come alive. For example, the exchange in this scene isn’t vital to the plot, but it adds a bit of fun into the scene:

I abruptly turn and slam into Sebastian. Again.

Sebastian lets out an “oof” as he stumbles backward. “Is this a habit of yours?” he says. “Because if so, I better get myself some protective gear.”

• Humor: When all else fails, I try to find a place to insert a joke or a humorous situation to help make the scene pop. Another example added during my voice revision for Mind Games:

Some girls prefer flowers, but I like to give the gift of detached body parts.

How to Get Inspired for Voice

I find once I start revising the voice, it comes out much easier than it does when I first start. The key is to get into the right voice mindset. There are a lot of ways I do this:

• Re-read back the last chapter you worked on to remember the voice

• Do some free-writing as your character for a scene that’s NOT in the novel just to warm up the voice. This way by the time you get into the actual manuscript, it’ll be flowing well. In order to write your character’s voice well, you have to know what she thinks/would say/do. Each character should have a distinct voice.

• Only read books with a similar voice to what you’re going for. When I do this, I’m not emulating THEIR voice but simply immersing myself in the kind of tone I want to write so I can eat, sleep, breathe it. What I mean by this is if I want to write a funny book, then I’ll only read funny books. If I want to write something that’s more poetic and literary, then I’ll avoid books with humor and instead pick up ones with a similar tone. If I want to write an action scene, I’ll read a bunch of action scenes before hand.

The voice pass is usually my favorite and the most frustrating at the same time! Aren’t all the best things like that?

Author spotlight

Shana Silver

Rachel Shane (writing as Shana Silver) studied creative writing at Syracuse University. She's been a computer animator, an e-book creator …

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