12.10: Developing Your Own, Personal Style

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard

We’re not talking about character voice here. We’re talking about your voice as a writer, your authorial style, and the aesthetics you employ, and how this is an expression unique to you. And with that definition out of the way, our discussion focuses around how we go about identifying, developing, and embracing our personal styles.

(And, of course, when this is something to actually worry about it.)

Liner Notes: here is Corinne Duyvis’ FAQ and commentary about the Twitter hashtag #ownvoices, and the movement it describes.

Credits: this episode was recorded in Cosmere House Studios by Dan Dan the Audioman Thompson, and mastered in a secret laboratory by Alex Jackson

Play

Take something written by someone else, which you did not like, and rewrite it in a way that makes it sound like you, with your voice.

20 thoughts on “12.10: Developing Your Own, Personal Style”

  1. Greetings from Tunisia.
    Thank you guys for an other great episode.
    I didn’t start writing yet (not a big serious project), i’m just still learning.
    Concerning the own style writing, even though for small writing exercises, i found out that my own background as a non-native English speaker has an impact on “the voice” of my writing, i could see it immediately in a mater of few lines and especially in dialogues. Could that be bad or good if one “dreams”/ Want’s to be novel writer one day?
    I love writing, Fantasy, and i’d love to share, to make people see these bizarre and awesome things jumping from my head to be words in a story, then jump back to the readers head. I just dont have the same perspective and vision of things as i see in stories i read …. I just see them differently. Is that good? Or are there certain things “required” for every writer to have?
    Anyway, i have tones of ideas. I admit that i’m a bit scared to start writing then no one would get to read my work as it comes from a non-native English speaker, but i’m not giving up.
    Great podcast by the way, until next week.

    1. I say, write your stories. Your voice might seem odd to some people, but I’d bet there would be just as many people who would enjoy it. You could always have a native English speaker read over your stories to check for language errors, if you’re worried about it.
      New and different stories are always good, so keep writing!

  2. Okay I’m confused. There is a big push for authors to write a diverse cast of characters, which is a good thing, but involves writing outside your own experiences.
    Now, if I’m understanding it right, everyone is saying write your own voice, i.e your own experiences. Which means writing a diverse cast would be hard, if not impossible.
    Am I just misunderstanding?

    1. I’m thinking diversity of characters is about representation, bringing fictional worlds into line with the diversity of the real world, but #ownvoices is about deliberately seeking authors who have lived experience of an identity when you want to be exposed to a deeper and more authentic account of that category of experience.

      1. Hmm, so similar to if you were trying to learn a skill you’d go to a teacher/expert not someone who’d never done that job?
        That makes more sense, thanks!

  3. When you dangle the puppet at the end of the lines, there’s the mechanics, where the strings and such go, the aesthetic, how beautiful your puppet is, and the personal twitches and tics that finish off the personality that the audience sees. Same with writing, you got some mechanics, limited third person, grammar, and such, aesthetics, where you choose how lyrical or transparent your prose is, and personal, where you decide what to talk about and how. The fun part? You probably can’t see your own style, even if everyone else is looking and admiring it. So… relax, and trust your style. Almost like the Force, young Jedi…

    While you’re swinging that lightsaber, take a look at the transcript, available in the archives or over here

    http://wetranscripts.livejournal.com/127525.html

    where our fanciful foursome amuse, delight, and ponder the intricacies of personal style. And Mary shows off her latest puppet!

  4. That was such a good episode. Voice and style have been on my mind lately, as I’ve been receiving a torrent of critiques chipping me for some variant of vocabulary or lyricism. I’m not blind to the possibility that my prose is purpler than I think, but I am often carefully choosing an unusual but precise word or a heightened style because that’s how I enjoy writing. Still, I go through phases where the critiques unnerve me and I spend a few weeks doing my best Hemingway impression–but it’s so constricting.

    Truthfully, I think the best thing I could hear is the advice in the podcast to trust my own style. That’s a stupendously liberating idea.

  5. Hey! First up, I appreciate you (guests, hosts, techs) putting so much effort into the podcasts, they help me cut and stretch and explain without boring and… They help.

    Second, I’ve been having some issues establishing character motivations without bludgeoning my beta-readers. I’m not sure I can call that an effective style. I know there’s a line or two between subtle and blindingly obvious, but I can’t seem to find it (or them).

    Third, it’s exciting to hear new faces among the casters! I’d ask an array of questions, but I’m guessing most of them will be answered over the course of the year.

  6. I find that this is especially difficult for me to pin down without a writing group. I rely a lot on external perspective to identify the recurring bits in my stories, especially the stylistic quirks. This is hard, because you need a really practiced reader to notice things like that. The average reader will usually plow right past it.

    1. Then you probably got all you needed from us. You know it’s difficult, you know how to go about getting the information you need. That’s a long way ahead of where most writers are w/ regard to their personal style and voice.

  7. Mary, I’m also from the South but no longer have the accent. 🙂 Actually, I can’t even fake a Southern accent anymore!

    So true that academic discussions on style are confusing and intimidating.

    Great discussion. So affirming!

  8. This is great, but, how would one write if one was trying to write as a character being a historian, and the whole book/short story is the historian writing his life’s work of the history of his world?

    1. Brittnay,
      You might want to look at the fanfic “Avatar Aang: An Annotated Bibliography,” which is essentially a series of annotations of various books in the ATLA universe. The prose acts like dry academia but the stuff each entry hints at makes reading it a lot of fun. Your historian character could be writing down various references s/he wants to use for his/her work and why they will be useful. If it’s an entire book you’ll probably want some other type of content to flesh things out, but a short story could work in this format.

  9. @ Rami. Go for it. Some of the most respected and beloved writers in the English language are not English as first language speakers. Joseph Conrad learnt English only quite late in life, and Salman Rushdie grew up with multiple languages around him. As far as I can tell, Umberto Eco mostly writes in his native language, but has sometimes written directly into both English and French (i.e. without translating out of another work). So, yes, go for it. If you can bring a perspective and view and experiences that are your own, then that will go a long way towards making stories that people will respond to.

    @ James Milton. Tastes vary. You may be in with a group who prefer more stripped back prose. Creative writing courses often prefer a sparse style, which can feed into this. One thing to be aware of though, is that there may be a middle ground too. It is possible to write well in a high flown style… Lord Dunsany is a good, if inimitable, example… however, it is also easy to slip into a sort of over-wrought style that doesn’t work so well. Without seeing what you are writing, I can’t say anything for certain, one way or another, and the best course is probably to try and be true to yourself while paying attention to whether readers in a general sense are finding that your stylistic embellishments may be getting in the way of a clear understanding and enjoyment of the story. If so, then consider peeling back a bit. I say this as someone who went through a similar experience of finding that my natural inclination to voice was just a bit too over-wrought for most readers. I’ve had to strip back a bit, not totally, but a bit.

    @JR. In terms of trying to more subtly convey motivations, it may be worthwhile taking some time to write out what is immediately motivating each character at the start of each chapter–immediately before you begin a chapter–and then write them out again at the end of each chapter–immediately after you are done with the chapter–as a reflection back on what actually happened as opposed to what you perhaps planned. The aim wouldn’t be to take these statements about motivation and put them directly into the story, but rather just to bring character motivation into the conscious area of your thought, so that you are thinking about motivation, imagining the motivations more deeply, as you are writing. Subtle clues and hints are much more likely to come through your writing if you keep motivations at the forefront of you mind. The laborious note-making is not something you’d need to do forever. Just for a bit, just to try and bring that part of the story to the fore, so that it is more visible on the surface.

    @ Brittany. That’s an ambitious undertaking. You have at least a couple options. One is to place the historian into the story as a frame… that is, he or she writes out their thoughts in ‘prologues’, ‘errata’, ‘marginalia’, ‘footnotes’ or ‘commentary’. Borges does this sort of thing quite a bit, and if you haven’t read any of his short stories, they would be worth looking at. Another option would be to simply introduce the story with a couple in-character lines, and then make the historian ‘present’ in the text, in the way that the author in The Hobbit is present, or the way in which C.S.Lewis is present in the Narnia books. That is, the story is being told in a third person style, but every now and then, the author stops, and addresses the reader directly. If done well, this can be a beautiful reading experience, but it can also come across as talking down to the reader. Tolkien thought he made some mistakes with this approach in The Hobbit, and later said that he wished he hadn’t made the authorial voice talk to the reader as if they were a child, because there is nothing that a child likes less than being talked to like a child. It’s something to be careful with.

    Sorry for my barrage of replies. I don’t have any more experience or skill than anyone else wandering around in the comments. Take everything I’ve said with a pinch of salt. Maybe helpful, maybe not.

    And, great episode, as always 🙂

    C.

    1. Hey, C.P. I think seeking a middle ground is good advice. I’ve been aiming for that, lately. For one thing, I know I’ve got a couple of stylistic tics from the purple end of the spectrum–including an inexplicable tendency to string together three adjectives together to get a particular rhythm and shade of meaning–that cry out for moderation. My last story (which sold) went through an over-the-top version, then a self-consciously simple version, before I tried restraint overall but allowing myself to take the brakes off at the climax. Even there I worried that heightening the prose at the climax would slow down the pacing at the exact wrong moment, yet *I think* it actually increased the emotional pacing (if that makes sense). Still, as that one sold, it persuaded me to try that style of middle ground going forward: restraint with strategic starbursts. Only, now I’m also going to try worrying less… 🙂

  10. What Mary said about not accepting line notes from beta reads just put into words what recently happened to me during my first ever beta read. Just as I thought I had an inkling of my personal style, one of my beta readers almost completely focused on micro line notes rather than a larger focus. How do you identify and learn to ignore what is solely a difference in personal writing styles without spiraling down into self-doubt?

  11. Hi. I really loved this podcast but it left me with a few questions. I’ve been writing off and on since high school (about 24 yrs – not published yet) and still am finding that my voice changes depending on the project. I noticed that my voice when I write audio plays, or film scripts is different than my voice for the story I submitted for Writers of the Future. I noticed it was also slightly different when I wrote 2016 nanowrimo novel and is different than my current nanowrimo project. Is it normal for your writing voice to change depending on the project or is it more likely that my voice is evolving the more I write?

    If it is my writer’s voice evolving is there an end point? Is this something I should worry about? Right now I don’t think about my writer’s voice, I just write painfully slow. Do published writer’s find that their writing voice still changes ?

    Thanks for all the writing advice.

    David 🙂

    1. Three things:
      1) This is normal.
      2) Good job noticing it! Controlling it is more difficult.
      3) Don’t let it distract you from doing the writing, especially not if “painfully slow” is a big thing.

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