Guest Author Anna Banks: Finding Your Own Voice and Making It Sing

A strong, unique, commanding voice is something every author wants—or at least, you should want it. It tells you apart from other authors and their works. It makes someone remember your book long after they’ve read it. And unfortunately, it’s also something no editor or agent or critique partner can teach you.

Still, you can develop your writing voice—once you figure out what it is, and what you want it to be. A good first clue is to ask yourself what stories you’re drawn to. Do you like reading angsty emotion-fraught books? Do you like light-hearted snarky fiction? What attracts you to these books? Is it how the books make you feel? If so, try to notice how the author puts words to the page. Notice it, and be careful not to copy it. Voice is something you have to make your own. This can’t be stated enough.

But what is voice exactly?  Well, for starters, voice isn’t what you say—it’s how you say it. And you have a natural way of saying things, even if you don’t realize it. That’s going to be your voice as an author. Still, you might find that your voice as an author is different from the voice you’re striving to create for your individual characters (and yes, each character must have his or her own voice, else it feels like the same person telling the story for the entire book).

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My favorite way to add voice is to find a mundane phrase that we hear every day. For instance, in my first novel Of Poseidon, instead of saying it’s hot outside, my character Emma observes that it’s “sweaty-eight degrees.” My goal was to make Emma snarky, and so after I’ve finished writing the first draft, I went through strictly to enhance voice. This should be on your list of revisions each and every time you go through your first draft.

Find boring sentences in your manuscript that state a simple fact—and try to say it differently. Again in Of Poseidon, instead of stating that Emma was clumsy, I showed Emma acknowledging her own clumsiness in her own voice. She says, “Worst-case scenario, they saw me totter like an intoxicated walrus into this complete stranger…” It’s also important not to beat your readers about the head with too much voice. Just a simple phrase or sentence sprinkled throughout is the best way to show voice without overdoing it.

You can also show voice by how your character describes what he or she sees around him. Be careful that you don’t get too poetic or too snarky; voice has to sound natural to the character. If the character wouldn’t normally notice how chubby a baby’s fingers are compared with the long slender hands of its mother, then by all means, skip it, even if it sounds good. Sacrifice a beautiful sentence to keep voice. Beautiful sentences can be written all day long; voice is the hardest thing to capture in your manuscript. Find your balance, because too much voice can be exhausting for your reader to keep up with, too.

Another way to find voice is to read your work aloud to yourself—or better yet, read it to someone else. Have them interrupt you when you start to sound boring. I know this sounds scary, and it is, but it’s imperative that you keep your reader entertained, even if you’re just saying something mundane, or nothing is happening as far as plot goes. Give your readers small nuggets of voice, and it will keep them turning the page.

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Voice presents opportunities to have your characters look at life or circumstances in unconventional ways, and give your reader something to think about. Don’t miss this opportunity in your writing to show who your characters are through voice, either in what they say or expressing how they do things.

I once polled a group of agents, asking them what they like to see most in the first pages of their submissions. The result? You guessed it—a distinct voice.

Key points to remember about voice:

· Don’t try to mimic another writer’s voice. Create your own. Stand out.

· Voice isn’t what you say, but how you say it.

· Read your work aloud and find opportunities to enhance your voice.

· Don’t put so much voice in your work that it becomes annoying, or exhausting to your reader. 

Happy writing! 

Want to win a critique of the first 50 pages of your book? Tweet at Anna Banks (@byannabanks) and Swoon Reads (@swoonreads) with the working title of your book, #loveyourNEMESIS, and #SwoonSweepstakes for a chance to win! Sweepstakes ends on 10/21.

Author spotlight

Anna Banks

NYT Bestselling YA author of The Syrena Legacy series: OF POSEIDON (2012), OF TRITON (2013), and OF NEPTUNE (2014). JOYRIDE …

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