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Use a Distinctive Voice and Intimate Point of View

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March 2010
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In the last post, I write on how to write dramatic scenes when writing a personal essay, memoir, travel article, and so forth. In this post, I will discuss two other important techniques for writing creative nonfiction: Using a distinctive voice and an intimate point of view.

The Distinctive Voice

What do we mean by voice? A writer’s voice has many elements. It refers to the writer’s choice of language, diction, or vocabulary. It also refers to the writer’s choice of syntax or sentence types and sentence patterns. It refers to the writer’s tone, which refers to the writer’s attitude toward his/her topic and the reader. A writer’s voice is also expressed in the literary devices he/she uses, such as simile, metaphor, and imagery. And the writer’s life experiences and education also contribute to his/her voice.

Good creative nonfiction is based on a distinctive writer’s voice that appeals to the reader. It is entertaining and easy to understand. It appeals to the emotions and intellect of the reader. It motivates or inspires the reader to want to read more of the writer’s work.

How to Develop a Distinctive Voice

As an aspiring writer, you will need to develop your distinct voice. It takes time and practise. It evolves with the passage of time, providing that you write on a regular basis. Your writer’s voice can change or evolve as you gain more experience in writing and learning and experimenting with the techniques of creative nonfiction.

How do you develop a distinctive voice? Here are a few tips:

  1. Read widely and deeply. You can start by reading the essays in The Art of the Personal Essay by Phillip Lopate and the Best American Essays series. It is published each year.
  2. Write each day. Only through practise will you develop the art and craft of writing, which also implies that you are developing your distinctive voice.
  3. Read and master the principles of the Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
  4. Read and master the advice written by William Zinsser’s classic, On Writing Well.
  5. When writing creative nonfiction, write about what interests you and what you are passionate about.
  6. Expand your vocabulary and incorporate these new words into your writing.
  7. Enrol in workshops and creative nonfiction courses at university or community college.
  8. Read how-to-books on creative nonfiction, such as Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola, and Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction by Dinty W. Moore. Other good books are The Art of Creative Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind and Writing Creative Nonfiction by Philip Gerard
  9. Write in a way that comes naturally. Don’t put on airs. Don’t write in a breezy manner. Use your own language and sentence patterns and structure.


Choose an Intimate Point of View

What do we mean by point of view? Point of view refers to how the events or experience  is told. A story can be told from the first person “I.” It is the most intimate point of view. The writer is a character within the story. The writer can reveal his/her thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

The story, experience, or events can also be told using the third person point of view “he/she.” This is the approach used in journalism. When using third-person, the writer has two choices: Third-person objective or third-person subjective. When using third-person objective, the story is told from the perspective of an unbiased narrator who is a character within the story. To tell the story, the writer uses “he/she.” At no time, does the narrator reveal his/her thoughts, feelings, or opinions. Truman Capote used this technique to write In Cold Blood. When using the third person subjective, the story is told using “he/she”. The writer can also reveal the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of any character within the story.

Sometimes the story is told using the second person or “you” point of view. But it is not common.

How does the writer decide on a point of view? Often, the type of writing will determine the point of view. Almost all personal essays and memoirs are based on the first person point of view. Frequently, travel writing is also told from the first-person point of view. Many literary journalistic essays and biographies are told from the third-person point of view.

The first person point of view allows the writer to share his/her thoughts, feelings, and opinions. By doing this, the writing gains the trust of the reader.

The type of voice the writer also contributes to building an intimate point of view. When a memoir, personal essay, autobiography, the writer can use a conversational, friendly tone,as though he/she is carrying on a conversation with the reader. To write in a conversational and friendly manner, the writer can use everyday language, contractions, slang, and colloquialisms.

The key points to remember when writing creative nonfiction are to use an intimate voice  and distinctive point of view. Often, the best way is to combine both is to use “I” and to include your thoughts, feelings, and opinions in your writing.

To learn more, you can read The Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction by Dinty W. Moore.

Next, I will discuss how to write a literary journalistic essay.


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