Storytelling and Voice for Writers

Writers talk – and sometimes worry – a lot about ‘voice’.

Voice is one of those things that can be hard to define but you know it when you see it.  It’s one of the things that makes a writer unique and keeps their fans coming back.

As writers, we are often told that we it’s important to nurture our ‘voice’ and protect it.  But how do you know when you’ve found your authentic voice?

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to define voice as a combination of the way you use words, your tone (funny, dark, etc) and the things that are important to you, that bleed through in whatever you write.  (I am open to argument on this definition; comment, if you want to have your say!).

There are many ways to nurture your voice.  One way is to write a lot.  The more you write, the more you will find how you like to express yourself and the more your voice will settle.  Others are to do courses and read resources that talk about voice.  For example, Kristen Lamb has a great series on her blog at the moment about voice (part one is here and part two is here). The quite fabulous Chuck Wendig also talks about it here.

But I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that one of the best ways to find your writing voice is to use your actual voice.

Writing is a solitary activity and many writers are quiet, solitary types, who spend a lot of time inside their own heads.  That’s fine, it’s what we do, but too much time in your own head can make you crazy and too much time worrying about what you are writing is not conducive to confidence about your style.

So, I am suggesting that you get out of your shell and tell a story.  To kids, to adults, to anyone who will listen.

And no, I don’t mean reading a story to the children.  I mean, learning a story, getting up (or sitting down) in front of people and telling it.

Are you scared yet?

You shouldn’t be.  The art of oral storytelling is as old as speech.  It is much older than books, or any kind of writing.  It is the original story form and let me tell you, nothing will teach you about your true style faster than having to say the words out loud.

In the silence of your writing space, you might be able to kid yourself that you really want to write whatever you think is the next big thing, or that you ‘should’ write more like your favourite big seller

But when the words are coming out of your mouth and you can see the whites of your audience’s eyes you will find that you have to be true to yourself – and you might find out things that surprise you.

You could discover that, for you, three little pigs is a horror story about stalking; that the troll defeated by the billy goats gruff is really a nice guy who was misunderstood; or that the key ingredient in Rumplestiltskin is not the rescue of the baby, but the humour.  And as for the way you use words, there is nothing like a live audience to tell you what works and what doesn’t in conveying a story.

Is it the same as writing?  No.  Will telling Red Riding Hood’s story solve the plot problems in your thriller? Probably not.  Will it give you a real-time, visceral feel for what about your style works for an audience and what doesn’t?  You betcha!

And the extra bonus?  Storytelling is fun, for teller and listeners.  We live in a world saturated in information but starved of the kind of connection fostered by gathering in a group and hearing those magic words, ‘Once upon a time’.

So here is my challenge to any writer who wants to find, or hone, their ‘voice’.  Tell a story.  See what you learn.  Let me know what happens.

I dare you.


PS – if you want to do it, but don’t know where to start, tell me that, too, and I’ll do a separate post on that!

3 thoughts on “Storytelling and Voice for Writers

  1. Reading aloud what you’ve written is a great tool, not just for fiction writers but for someone preparing a speech or oral presentation. Hearing the words, instead of just reading them, helps a lot with grammar and flow. You hear those pauses where maybe a comma should go, or perhaps where one is where it shouldn’t.

    Especially with dialogue, you can hear how you are having your characters talk … if it’s right on point or stilted or overly formal (usually my problem) … and provides a good opportunity to get rid of those adverbs!

    Best part is, if you can read the story aloud to someone and they are interested – then maybe your writing isn’t half-bad afterall. 😛

    • Absolutely! Reading aloud is brilliant for fostering what a great teacher I know calls ‘natural speech rhythms’. Essential for dialogue. If someone else is listening, will also tell you when you’ve been inadvertently funny…

      But storytelling is great too, even if the stories you tell seem to have little to do with what you write. Being in front of a live audience gives you a visceral connection to story that nothing else I know does. And if you can take that back to your writing, it helps you stay authentic, which is essential to voice.

      Thanks for commenting. Always nice to ‘see’ you!

  2. Pingback: SYWTBAW: Getting your work out there « Wine, Women & Wordplay

Go on, have your say. You know you want to...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s