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Publishing of Book:The Art and Craft of Creative Writing

Art-and-Craft-of-Creative-Writing_cover Thanks for visiting my blog for  the past four years. During that time, I’ve read and learned about the writing life, poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction. I have read many books, learned a great deal, and written a couple hundred craft essays. In January of this year, I decided to write a book based on what I have learned. And so from April until a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a how-to creative writing eBook. It is called “The Art and Craft of Creative Writing.” It is based on what I have learned. To purchase the book, visit http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00F4VOYRK

The book is more than 400 pages long and includes the following chapters chapters:

 Table of Content

  • About the Author 3
  • Introduction. 4
  • THE WRITING LIFE. 7
  • The Art and Craft of Writing. 8
  • The Writing Life: Journal Writing. 16
  • The Writing Life: Reading Like a Writer 19
  • The Writing Life: Learning to Write Creatively. 24
  • The Writing Life: Finding Inspiration to Write. 29
  • Ten Myths about Writing. 33
  • Writer’s Block. 36
  • The Writing Life: Developing Your Writing Voice. 39
  • Blogging as a Form of Creative Writing. 44
  • The Writing Process. 49
  • Writing the Opening. 54
  • Writing the Ending. 57
  • Revising Your Work. 60
  • WRITING FREE VERSE POETRY.. 65
  • Poetry: An Overview.. 66
  • Free Verse Poetry: An Overview.. 74
  • The Title of a Poem.. 80
  • Finding Inspiration and a Subject for Your Poem.. 83
  • Writing Free Verse: Stanza, Line, Syntax. 87
  • Writing Free Verse: Word Choice. 93
  • Writing Free Verse: Adding Sensory Details. 96
  • Writing Free Verse: Using Figurative Language. 100
  • Writing Free Verse: Adding Sound Effects. 104
  • Writing Free Verse: Meter and Rhythm.. 108
  • Writing the Prose Poem.. 113
  • Learning to Write Free Verse Poetry. 116
  • WRITING SHORT FICTION.. 123
  • Writing Short Fiction: An Overview.. 124
  • Writing Short Fiction: Creating the Setting. 130
  • Writing Short Fiction: The Plot 134
  • Writing Short Fiction: Character and Characterization. 139
  • Writing Short Fiction: Dialogue. 144
  • Writing Short Fiction: Point of View.. 148
  • Writing Short Fiction: The Theme. 152
  • Writing Short Fiction: Literary Techniques and Poetic Devices. 155
  • Writing Short Fiction: Voice and Writing Style. 161
  • Writing Short Fiction: Beginning and Ending. 166
  • How to Write a Short Story. 170
  • WRITING CREATIVE NONFICTION.. 176
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: An Overview.. 177
  • The Ethics of Creative Nonfiction. 184
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: Using Humour in Your Writing. 189
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Personal Narrative Essay. 194
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Opinion Essay. 202
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Meditative Essay. 209
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Lyrical Essay. 215
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Segmented Essay. 219
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Literary Journalism Essay. 224
  • The Literary Journalism Essay: On Popular Culture. 229
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: Narrative History. 237
  • The Literary Journalism Essay: The Global Village. 243
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Profile/Biography Sketch. 248

For anyone who desires to embrace the writing life, write free verse poetry, write short fiction, write creative nonfiction, such as the personal essays, and more, this book is for you. It is filled with advice, tips, suggestions, how-to explanations, and more. You can buy it at Amazon for $7.00. To purchase the book, visit:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00F4VOYRK I will not be making any more posts to this blog. It is time for another project. Good luck in your writing endeavors. Dave Hood,B.A.

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Writing Short Fiction: Voice and Writing Style

July 31 2013

Dave Hood

The writer’s voice is everything the writer brings to the experience of writing short fiction, including education, socialization, values, beliefs, religion, opinions, and life experiences. The writer’s writing style is part of voice. This writing style is what makes a writer authentic, original, different from other writers. It is what readers hear when they read the short story. The writer’s voice is their “public persona,” which is revealed on the page. The most important features of writing style are word choice or diction, sentence patterns, literary techniques, and tone.

One of the popular writing styles of fiction is the minimalist style. It was a style popularized by Ernest Hemingway, and also endorsed by Raymond Carver. This style focuses on the belief that “less is more.” Writers use short paragraphs, short sentences, write with the active voice, and use action verbs and concrete verbs. The writer omits or deletes every detail that is not essential to the writing. Subtext plays a strong role in this style of fiction.

You can develop your fiction writing style by reading and analyzing short fiction, and then incorporating the techniques of other writers into your own fiction.

(Note: You will also use these same guidelines and techniques to write poetry, personal essays, and other types of creative nonfiction.)

In this article, I’ll discuss writing style as it applies to fiction writing.  The following will be covered:

  • How to identify the author’s writing style.
  • Define Hemingway’s minimalist style.
  • Suggest a writing style to use for writing fiction.
  • Learning to write lyrical prose.
  • Developing your own writing style.

Analyzing Short Fiction

The writer’s style of writing is expressed through word choice or diction, tone of the writing, the use of imaginative language, such as simile, metaphor, imagery, the types of sentences or syntax , as well as the choice of fictional techniques.

The best short fiction writers use everyday language in a fresh and original way.  They also avoid using avoid clichés and jargon. Often they share an interesting word that we’ve never heard—a word that has powerful meaning.

The best short fiction writers use a variety of sentence patterns, such as the use of loose and periodic sentences, sentence fragments, simple, compound, complex, compound-complex sentence.

The best short fiction writers use a variety of literary techniques, such as flashback, suspense, dialogue, showing and telling, and interior monologue.

The best short fiction writers also use the poetic devices of poetry, including simile, metaphor, personification, imagery, alliteration, and allusion. Some writers use similes and metaphors infrequently, such as Carver and Hemingway. Other writers use them a great deal.

The best short fiction writers use a tone that is conversational and respectful. Tone refers to the writer’s attitude to his/her subject and view of the audience. Never use a condescending tone. Learn to write fiction by reading short stories as a writer. Analyze how the writer used the elements of fiction, literary techniques, and poetic devices to constructed the short story. As you read, answer these questions:

  1. How does the writer begin the short story? With conflict? With setting description? With dialogue? With action? With a memorable event?
  2. How does the writer develop the setting? What is the time and place of the story? Is it real or fantasy? Does the setting create a mood? Is the setting the antagonist? Does the setting provide a backdrop for the story?
  3. A short story must include conflict, turning point, and resolution. Identify the conflict, turning point, and resolution of the story.
  4. Which point of view does the writer use?
  5. What is the theme? How does the writer reveal theme to the reader?
  6. Where does the writer use scene and summary? What are the features of each scene?
  7. where is there dialogue in the story?  How does the writer use dialogue? What conventions are used?
  8. What fictional techniques does the writer use? What poetic devices does the writer use?
  9. What is the writing style of the writer? Does the writer use simple or fancy words? Does the writer use simple sentences , compound sentences, or fragments?
  10. How does the writer end the story? Does it include an epiphany? Lesson learned? Is the ending open, closed, or a summary?

One of the popular writing styles of short fiction is minimalism, popularized by Ernest Hemingway. He wrote minimalist short fiction. Years later, short story writer Raymond Carver also embraced this style of storytelling. Minimalist short fiction has these attributes:

  • Concrete nouns and action verbs
  • Few adverbs and adjectives
  • Short sentences
  • Short paragraphs
  • Short words and everyday language, as well as familiar instead of fancy words.
  • Minimal character and setting description
  • Minimal background details
  • Very little use of figurative language, such as simile, metaphor, personification
  • Insufficient resolution or ending to the story

Popular Fiction Writing Style

To write short fiction, develop a writing style that includes:

  • Concrete nouns
  • Action verbs
  • Active voice
  • Sentence variety
  • Figurative language, such as simile, metaphor, symbolism, personification, allusion
  • Lyrical prose, using alliteration, assonance, repetition, parallel structure

Develop a writing style that is friendly and conversational. Learn to show and tell readers. Use sensory detail, language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. As well, read and master the advice in Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.”

Learning to Writer Lyrical Prose

Author Constance Hale, in “Sin and Syntax,” explains how you can learn to write literary prose. There are found components: voice, lyricism, melody, and rhythm.

Voice

The writer must consider the literary meaning and implied meaning of words, as well as avoid using clichés and jargon. The writer should also use a variety of sentence patterns, such as a fragment, simple, and compound sentences.

Lyricism

The writer can create prose that sound musical by using the following:

  • Imagery-Use of sensory details.
  • Metaphor-Making a comparison between unlike things, without using “like” or “as.”
  • Simile-Making a comparison between unlike things, using “like” or “as.”
  • Personification. Describing things and objects and ideas by using human attributes. Example: The bible preaches its wisdom to anyone who takes the time.
  • Description. Using concrete, significant, and particular description. Example: He pressed the shutter on his black Nikon, full-frame camera, using a wide-angle lens, capturing a fleeting moment in time, a man being shot by police, for all the world to see.
  • Repetition. Repeating words and phrases in a sentence or sentences that are close to each other.

Example:

Streets and highway filled with an avalanche of snow. The plows bulldoze it away. Icicles hang from the eaves like a work of installation art. Cars stuck, spinning their wheels. The Maple leaf, stands, watches, as the neighborhood shovels. Kids frolic, build snow forts, toboggan down hills of snow in the park behind the school. The storm has interrupted daily routines and rituals.

Melody

The writer can create prose that have a melody by using the poetic devices of:

  • Assonance-Positioning two or more words with the same vowel sounds close together in a sentence.
  • Alliteration- Positing two or more words with the same initial consonant sounds in a sentence.
  • Internal rhyme Selecting words that rhyme and using them in the middle of a sentence.
  • Onomatopoeia -Using words that sound what they describe. Example: The fire crackled.

Rhythm

The writer should strive to create sentences that have rhythm. It refers to pattern, pace, repetition, and parallel structure of a sentence. A simple way to create rhythm is to count the stressed syllables in a sentence. The writer can slow down the pace with long sentences, and speed up the pace with short sentence. Create rhythm in your prose by developing sentences with a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. Learn to use repetition and parallel structure. Example: He smoked, drank, womanized, and died one day, lounging on the beach in the sunshine with a smile. ( Slow pace)

Developing Your Writing Style

Part of learning to write is developing your own writing voice. How do you do this? There are several ways. The most important advice I have read was written by Elizabeth Berg, the author of “Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True.” She suggests that you can develop your writing voice by putting down on to paper the words you are hearing in your mind. In other words, be yourself as you write. Use your own words, and don’t imagine you are someone else as you write. Write honestly—share your thoughts, feelings, opinions, impressions, stories that are important to you. And share them by using your own language–how you speak. She also suggests that you should not write about what you know but that you should write about what you love, what you are passionate about.

Next, you should write often and regularly. Start by keeping a journal. Write everyday in this journal, recording observations, interesting quotations, memorable lyrics, overheard conversation, lines of poetry. Write poetry, anecdotes, short, short essays. Try using the technique of stream of consciousness. Write by freewriting. Record “small, fleeting moments.”Ask a question to yourself, and then write an answer. Include interesting photograph, news stories, advice columns. Write about your emotional truth—how you felt about something. In your journal, you can write about anything. Journal writing helps you develop the habit of writing and your writing skills. It can also be a place where you record “possible ideas” for a poem, short story, and personal essay.

Also, learn all about writing style. The best and easiest book to read is “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. It provides the rules and guidelines of a good writing style. If you intend to write essays or other creative nonfiction, you should also read “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. Both of these books are classics, are used in university and college writing courses, and are recommended by most writers. Every writer should have copies of these inexpensive paperbacks on their bookshelf for reference. As well, read Constance Hale’s “Sin and Syntax.”

Next, read short stories to learn how the writer constructed the story. If you are not sure, read “How to Read Like a Writer” by Francine Prose.

Fourthly, make sure you understand the rules and guidelines of grammar, such as for use of verbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, and more. If you don’t know these rules or guidelines, pick up a copy of “Woe Is I:The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English” by Patricia T. O’Connor. Another great book that presents grammar in with a humorous tone is “The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. I also recommend “The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magical and Mystery of Practical English” by Roy Peter Clark.

Learn the rules of punctuation. How to use the comma, exclamation mark, question mark, quotation marks, semi colon, colon. Essentially, you must memorize the rules. To learn the rules of punctuation, I suggest you read “The Glamour of Grammar” by Roy Peter Clark.

Learn to the major types of sentence patterns and then to write poetry, short fiction, and personal essays. The syntax of a sentence is an important feature of the writer’s voice. To develop your own voice, learn to write simple, compound, complex, compound-complex sentences. Learn when to use a sentence fragment and how to write using parallel construction. Learn how to use items in a series. Learn how to write both periodic or cumulative sentences. Where can you go for advice?

Language choices contribute to writer style. Therefore, you should own a dictionary and thesaurus. Use them for enjoyment and to improve your language skills. Develop your language skills by looking up the meaning of words you don’t understand in a dictionary. Find the precise word by checking your thesaurus, which includes synonyms. To expand your vocabulary, begin learning a word a day. Use the words you learn in your writing. Don’t write to impress. Instead, use language to express yourself, to communicate meaning, to entertain, to share important ideas, knowledge, and wisdom with your audience.

If you aspire to become a creative writer, learn how to write imaginatively. Imaginative writing involves learning how to show and tell the reader, writing vivid descriptions of sensory imagery–language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. It involves using literary devices of simile, metaphor, personification, symbolism, and other devices that you find in fiction and poetry and creative nonfiction. There are countless books on the market that you can purchase. For a good overview on how to write creatively and imaginatively, I suggest you purchase “Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft” by writer/instructor Janet Burroway. It’s a superb text that will help you.

Another way to develop your voice is to share emotional truth in your writing. It means telling others how you feel. For instance, if you lost your job–tell your readers how it felt. If you were diagnosed with a serious disease, share your thoughts and feelings with your readers. If you split up with a girlfriend or marital partner, tell the audience how you felt by expressing the emotional truth. Keep in mind that two people can have different emotional views on a situation. And so , there is no right or wrong “emotional truth.” Emotional truth has to do with how you felt about a person, about an experience , about an event.

It takes time to develop your writing voice, providing you write on a regular basis. Many writing instructors suggest you keep a journal and experiment in it. In part, developing your voice is an unconscious effort–you learn by reading and writing, without making a conscious effort. In part, you can make a conscious decision to develop your voice. For instance, you can learn to read like a writer. You can learn grammar, spelling, punctuation. You can experiment with language and sentence variety. You can make a conscious choice about what sort of tone to use. The easiest way to develop your voice is to “put down on paper” what is on your mind.

Your writing voice is what a reader hears when they read your words. Your writing voice is your “public persona,” which is expressed in your writing. It is revealed in the language that you use, the types of sentences that you use, and your tone–your attitude toward the reader and the topic or idea you are writing about.

Additional Reading

To learn more about how to develop your developing and polishing your writer’s voice, read the following superb books:

  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale
  • The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English by Roy Peter Clark
  • The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon
  • Woe is I: the Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Connor
  • Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway

Writing Free Verse Poetry: An Overview

Dave Hood

Most modern and contemporary poets write free verse poetry. Unlike traditional poetry, which is based on a particular metrical pattern and often a rhyme scheme, the free verse poet writes poetry without rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Read any collection of modern or contemporary poetry, and you’ll quickly discover that the poets have composed their poetry as free verse.

Many contemporary poets have written memorable free verse poetry–poems that will stand the test of time. A century from now, readers will view these free verse poems as  works of art. Read the poetry of the poet laureates, such as Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Donald Hall, Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, Louise Gluck, Rita Dove, and you’ll experience something delightful, something memorable. These poets have written poems about anything you can think of, such as war, happiness, death, misery. Here’s a good free verse poem by poet laureate Rita Dove called “Golden Oldie:”

I made it home early, only to get

stalled in the driveway, swaying

at the wheel like the blind pianist caught in tune

meant for more than two hands playing.

The words were easy, crooned

by a young girl dying to feel alive, to discover

a pain majestic enough

to live by. I turned the air-conditioning off,

leaned back to float on a film of sweat,

and listened to the sentiment:

Baby, where did our love go?-a lament

I greedily took in

without a clue who my lover

might be, or where to start looking.

She writes in the first person, shares an anecdote or story, uses the poetic device of allusion, creates a conversational tone with language that all readers can understand. At the end, she shares a universal truth about youth. This poem has meaning. Good free verse poetry has meaning, like an illuminating quotation by a famous person.

In this article, I’ll provide you with an overview of free verse poetry. The following will be covered:

  • Types of free verse
  • Building blocks of free verse
  • Voice and style of the poet

Types of Free Verse

Free verse poets have written about any subject you can imagine. From love, to hate, to death, to a personal experience, to a fleeting moment.  For instance, the poem in the introduction is a narrative. It tells a story. It could also be an anecdote. Once you start reading modern and contemporary poetry, you discover that poets write various types of free verse. Here are some of the most common types:

  1. Narrative poem. The poet tells a story. Often, there is rising action, climax, and resolution, like a short story. The poet composes the narrative by using simile, metaphor, imagery, vivid description, line breaks, and so forth.
  2. Prose poem. The poet uses complete sentences and the techniques of poetry, simile, metaphor, imagery, and vivid description. Stanzas become paragraphs. The language of the poem is lyrical.
  3. Anecdote. The poet describes some incident or experience or event that is humorous or interesting, and ends the poem with some insight. Poets also use anecdotes to illustrate a truth.
  4. Image poem. The poet writes a poem about an image, and relies on language that appeals to the sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing to describe the image. The poet also composes the poem using line break, simile, metaphor, and so forth.
  5. Meditative poem. The poet begins by describing a scene. This scene triggers a meditation in the mind of the poet. The poet then returns to the initial scene with better understanding or resolution.  The poet composes the poem using line break, simile, metaphor, and so forth.
  6. Lyrical poem.  A traditional form adopted by many modern/contemporary poets. The poet writes a poem expressing personal thoughts and feelings about an idea, person, experience. The poet uses imagery and description to create a mood. The poet also uses sound effects to make the poem sound lyrical, like music. These sound effects include alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, internal or end rhyme.
  7. Confessional poem. A poem that is autobiographical. The poet writes about personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Instead of looking outward, observing the world, and then writing about it, the poet peers inward to the psyche, writes about the world in relation to themselves. The poet composes the poem using line break, simile, metaphor, and so forth.  See the poetry of Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, Jane Kenyon.
  8. Elegy. A traditional form adopted by some modern/contemporary poets.   A poem that laments the death of a loved one, such as a friend. The poet composes the poem using line break, simile, metaphor, and so forth. See “Oh Caption! My Caption” by Walt Whitman and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickenson

Building Blocks

Unlike a traditional poem, such as a sonnet or blank verse, where the poet must follow particular rules, such a particular number of lines in a stanza, a particular metrical pattern, and a particular rhyme scheme, the free verse poet can compose a poem in any way he/she desires, without adhering to any rules. However, if the poet aspires to write good poetry, or memorable poetry, or poetry that is worthy of publication, then the poet must follow the conventions and guidelines of free verse poetry. A good free verse poem uses the following building blocks or techniques:

Syntax and grammar. Poets use a variety of syntax, such as fragments, simple sentences, compound sentences, periodic sentences, and  parallel structure.  They follow the rules of punctuation and the rules of grammar.  They use both action verbs and concrete nouns . They write in the active voice instead of the passive voice. (The noun performs the action of the verb.) They use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. (to avoid wordiness and repeating an idea that can be presented by the right verb or right noun.)

Line breaks and Line length. Poets use line breaks such as white space, enjambment, or end-stop (period or comma) to  indicate the reader to pause, to create emphasis, and to create rhythm.  They write short lines to speed up the pace, and long lines to slow down the pace.

Figurative Language. Most good free verse poetry includes simile or metaphor.  A simile makes a comparison using “like” or “as.” A metaphor makes a comparison with “is” or “of” by stating that one thing is another. Example: She  is the devil in disguise. And when required, the poet also includes symbolism and allusion and personification.

Figurative language can make a poem pleasurable to read. It  can clarify meaning. It entertains the reader. It turns the ordinary into something meaningful, something memorable. Often an abstract idea can be made concrete to the reader by using similes or metaphors. Example: Love is a drug….We are addicted to love. In the poem, “Golden Oldies”,  poet Rita Dove uses the technique of allusion to make reference to pop culture. She writes: “Baby, where did our love go?” It is a famous song by The Supremes, who were a popular singing group in the 60’s and early 70’s.

Appropriate word choice or diction. Free verse poets choose words for their meaning (denotation or dictionary meaning), implied meaning (connotation), and sound (rhyme, alliteration, assonance). Example: The boy sat on the soiled sofa/sipped a cold soda/ read a comic book. Most free verse poets use everyday language, words that you’d here in a conversation. The following  poem by Louise Gluck  is a good example of how poets can use everyday language to create a powerful poetry:

Memoir

I was born cautious, under the sign of Taurus.

I grew up on an island, prosperous,

in the second half of the twentieth century;

the shadow of the Holocaust

hardly touched us.

I had a philosophy of love, a philosophy

of religion, both based on

early experience within family.

And if when I wrote I used only a few words

it was because time always seemed to me short

as though it could be stripped away

at any moment.

And my story, in any case, wasn’t unique

though, like everyone else, I had a story,

a point of view.

A few words were all I needed:

nourish, sustain, attack.

Imagery. Good free verse poets use language that appeals to reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing.  The poet uses imagery to show the reader what happened or what the poet experienced with his/her senses. Imagery brings a person, object, image, moment, experience to life. Imagery recreates what the poet experienced or imagined as a the scene in the mind of the reader. Imagery helps to create “word pictures.”

Symbolism. On occasion, the free verse poet uses symbol, metonymy,  or synecdoche. A symbol refers to something other than its literal meaning. Some poets use well-recognized symbols. ( Examples: cross, dove, bible) Others create their own. (A blooming yellow tulip in the garden can be a symbol of birth or springtime.) Metonymy is a figure of speech in which the poet replaces the word of one thing with the word or phrased that is closely associated with it. (Example: Crown instead of Monarch)  A synecdoche is a figure of speech in which the poet substitutes the  “part for the whole.” This part or attribute or characteristic is used by the poet to refer to the entire person, place, thing, object, and so forth. (Example:  The teenager purchased a “set of wheels.”  Wheels refer to a car or truck.

Sound Devices. A memorable poem has a pleasing sound when read aloud. This  pleasuring sound is created with particular  poetic devices, such as alliteration (repetition of consonant sound of two or more words on a line or lines) and  assonance (repetition of vowel sounds of two or more words on a line or lines). When required, poets also use onomatopoeia, internal rhyme, or end rhyme. Free verse poetry is meant to be read for its meaning and sound. Both invoke an emotional reaction.

Rhythm.  A good free verse poem has rhythm or beat. This rhyme is based on  the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables on a line. Meter can be part of rhythm. For instance, a poet can include rhythm by using a particular metrical pattern. Though a free verse poem doesn’t have to comply to a metrical pattern, such as iambic pentameter, many modern and contemporary poets rely on  “syllabic meter” to create rhythm.  For instance, the poetic might create a poem in which each line has the same number of syllables.

Poets also use other techniques, such as parallel structure and repetition, to create rhythm.

Line break is also an important way to create rhythm. The poet can use white space, enjambment, or end-stop, such as a period or coma.

Poets also create rhythm by changing the pace. The poet can speed up or slow down the pace of a poem, make it fast or slow,  smooth or interrupted—even irregular by using different lengths of line.   A long line slows down the pace, while a short line speeds up the pace. Usually a longer line has more syllables than a short line.

Point of view. Free verse poetry can be written from different poets of view—first person (“I”), second person (“you”), or third person (“he/she”). Before selecting a point of view, the poet should determine how he/she is going to present the poem to the reader. The poet has two choices: First, the poet can turn inward–and then write about thoughts, feelings, perceptions. Secondly, the poet can turn outward—and write about other people, objects, things, events, topics in the world. If the poet turns inward, to the psyche or self, then the poem is usually written in the first person (“I.”) If the poet turns outward—to view the outside world, the poet can still write in the first person. However, usually the poet writes in the  third person using (“he/she.”)

Sometimes the poet writes in the second-person point of view using  “you.” In this case, the poet is referring directly to the reader. Example: You smoke your cigarette/ You read your paper/You sip your morning coffee/You ponder how another day will unfold/You’ve learned that a day can play out like a football game/ Often you don’t know who will win until the very end.

Sometimes, the poet invents a persona, and then composes a poem as if he were someone else. For instance, the poet might write a poem in the voice of someone dead or alive or famous. Most free verse poems are written in the first-person point of view (“I”), or the third person point of view (“he/she”).

Appealing Voice and Style. Voice and style are used interchangeably. They refer to tone, word choice/diction, and sentence variety. A good poem has a respectful tone, is constructed with everyday language, and a variety of sentence structures, such as fragment, parallel structure, simple sentence, compound sentences, and more. For instance, here is a poem, written by Ted Kooser,  that is like a conversation:

Flying at Night

by Ted Kooser

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.

Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies

like a snowflake falling on the water. Below us

some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,

snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn

back into the little system of his care.

All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,

tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.

Voice and Style of the Poet

Whether you write fiction, poetry, personal essays, voice and style refer to the same thing. The most important aspects of style or voice are tone of the writing, word choice, and sentence structure. Every particular writer has a unique voice or style that is expressed on the page.   Voice or style is what the readers hears when they read a writer’s work. Style or voice is developed as the writer gains more experience. In other words, the more the poet writes and learns about poetry, the more polished the style. Favorite poets will have a voice you like. Several elements create the poet’s voice or style. These include:

  • Subject Matter. The subject you choose to write about will contribute to the voice of your poem. For instance, if you desire to write about grief and death, you’ll probably want to use a serious, respectful, melancholy tone.
  • Word Choice. The types of words you choose, the sound of these words, and the meaning of these words will contribute to your voice. A good poet uses everyday language, which can be understood. A good poet also writes poetry that has a pleasing sound when read aloud.
  • Sentence Types. The sentence types you use are part of your voice that you express on the page. You can use different types of sentences, such as a fragment, simple sentence, compound sentence, complex sentence, fragment, and so forth. A short sentence speeds up the pace, where as a longer sentence slows the pace.
  • Grammar.  Poets are told to use the active voice,  concrete and specific details, concrete nouns, and action verbs. Each contributes to the voice of a poem. You should following these suggestions to help create a pleasing voice.
  • Figurative language/Poetic Devices. In part, your  style is determined by the poetic devices you use to create your poems.  You might use alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia to create a particular sound. You might also use simile, metaphor, imagery, symbolism to create an entertaining poetry and to explain. Many poets prefer particular poetic devices over others. Most good free verse uses simile or metaphor.
  • Tone. The tone of the poem is determined by the poet’s attitude toward the reader and the subject. The best tone is friendly, conversational, respectful. Write your poetry as if you’re talking to a friend.
  • Point of View. The personal point of view ( “I”) is more intimate. Use it to write about yourself.  The third person (“he/she”) provides some narrative distance. Use it write about the world around you.
  • Life experience. Every writer is socialized by the world in which he/she lives. Religion, the mass media, education, family, personal experience shape the writers view of the world.

The four most important aspects of  developing style are tone, word choice, sentence variety/syntax, and poetic technique.

Resources

For more information on writing free verse poetry, read the following books:

  • How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch
  • The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland
  • The Poet Laureate Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt
  • A Poet’s Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie
  • Creating Poetry by John Drury
  • The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes
  • The Poet’s Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie
  • Making Your Own Days by Kenneth Koch
  • In the Poem of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit

The Writer’s Life: Developing Your Writing Voice

By Dave Hood

Your “writer’s voice” is about writing style. It is what makes you authentic, original, different from other writers.  It is the voice you use to write a poem, personal essay, short story or novel.  It is what readers hears when they read your words.

Read a poem by Charles Simic, Mary Oliver, Robert Frost, or any other memorable poet, you’ll quickly discover their compelling and authentic voice. Read the short stories of  Poe, Atwood, Munro, and you will hear different voices expresses as you read. Read an personal essay by E.B. White or Joan Didion–you’ll discover other voices.

A writer’s voice is their “public persona, which is revealed on the page when you read. Reading enable you to hear the writer speak.  The writer speaks by writing down words on a page.

You can express your voice on the page in many ways. In my opinion, the most important  components of a writer’s voice are word choice/diction, sentence variety, and the writer’s tone.

In this article, I’ll  explain how a writer’s voice is revealed, suggest the type of  voice to use, and explain how to develop your “writer’s voice.”

How is a Writer’s Voice Revealed to the Reader?

The writer’s voice is expressed on the page by word choice or diction, tone of the writing, the use of imaginative language, such as simile, metaphor, and imagery, and the types of sentences or syntax the writer chooses to craft a piece of writing.

Word choice has to do with the type of language the writer uses, such as simple, everyday words or grandiloquent words.  Memorable writers avoid clichés. Instead they use language in a fresh and original way. Often they share an interesting word that we’ve never heard—a meaningful word that has power, that is accurate, that is precise. For instance: This morning, I met a curmudgeon at the supermarket. Instead of writing: “This morning, I met an old man…”

Tone refers to the writer’s attitude toward his readers and subject. A writer can have many types of tone.  It often depends on the genre and type of writing. Tone is a big part of a writer’s voice. Tone refers to your attitude to the reader and about what you are writing about. For example, when you read the essays of  David Sedaris, you hear a humorous tone. When you read the poetry of Charles Simic, you often hear a “whimsical” tone.

Two popular types of tones are humorous and serious.  A person writing an essay about “death” will often use a serious, respectful tone. A humorist might write with an ironic or witty tone. Writers should strive to use a conversational tone. You write as though you are having a conversation with a friend. You must never write as though you are preaching or acting as though you are superior to the reader, unless you want the reader to toss your work in the garbage.

Writing style refers to syntax or sentence variety, such as the use of loose and periodic sentences and sentence fragments, simple, compound, complex, compound-complex sentence. Use of the active voice or passive voice. Use of powerful verbs. Writing with nouns and verbs–or verbose writing.

A writer’s voice, especially in creative writing, is expressed  by the writer’s ability to write imaginatively. Memorable poets, short story writers, novelists, essayists are able to use literary devices skillfully. Imaginative language has to do with the tools of creative writing–using simile, metaphor, personification, imagery, alliteration, and more. Some writers use few similes and metaphors–others them a great deal. Great writers make every word count–serve some purpose.

What Type of Voice to Use

We like particular poems, have favorite short stories, read essays, and experience delight by reading other works of certain writers for many reasons. One of the reasons has to do with “the writer’s voice.” How the voice sounds as we read the words on the page. How the ideas are presented to the reader on the page. The actual content of the work, and so forth.

In the splendid book about writing by Constance Hale called “Sin and Syntax: How to Craft a Wickedly Effective Prose,” she writes: “A strong voice is conversational. The writer leaves us with a sense  that we are listening to a skilled raconteur rather than passing our eyes over  ink on paper. This involves more than just write the way you talk.”

The writer must pay attention to the sound of words, the rhythm of sentences, the word choice and its connotation, sentence variety. Most importantly, the writer must revise his work, perhaps many times, before the writing is complete. The first draft is never the final draft, unless you are not a passionate writer.

The voice of  a writer is determined by many things, including life experience, education, beliefs, values, interests, and passions—everything the writer brings to the experience of writing.

The best voice to use is conversational, informal, friendly–as though you are having conversation with a friend over coffee.

How Can You Develop Your Own Writing Voice?

Part of learning to write is developing your  own writing voice. How do you do this? There are several paths.  The most important advice I have read was written by Elizabeth Berg, the author of  “Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True.” She suggests that you can develop your writing voice by “putting down on to paper the words you are hearing in your head.” In other words, be yourself  as you write. Use your own words, and don’t imagine you are someone else as you write. Write honestly—share your thoughts, feelings, opinions, impressions, stories that are important to you. And share them by using your own language–how you speak. She also suggests that you should not write about what you know but that you should write about what you love, what you are passionate about.

Next, you should write often and regularly. Start by keeping a journal.  Write everyday in this journal, recording observations, interesting quotations, memorable lyrics, overheard conversation, lines of poetry. Write poetry, anecdotes, short, short essays. Write using stream of consciousness. Write by freewriting. Record “small, fleeting moments.”Ask a question to yourself, and then write an answer. Include interesting photograph, news stories, advice columns. Write about your emotional truth—how you felt about something. In your journal, you can write about anything. Journal writing helps you develop the habit of writing and your writing skills. It can also be a place where you record “possible ideas” for a poem, short story, and personal essay.

Also, learn all about writing style. The best and easiest book to read is “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. It provides the rules and guidelines of a good writing style. If you intend to write essays or other creative nonfiction, you should also read “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser.  Both of these books are classics, are used in university and college writing courses, and are recommended by most writers. Every writer should have copies of these inexpensive paperbacks on their bookshelf for reference.

Next, read poetry, short stories, and essays of writer’s you admire. Analyze how they have written their work. If you are not sure, read “How to Read Like a Writer” by Francine Prose.

Fourthly, make sure you understand the rules and guidelines of grammar, such as  for use of verbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, and more. If you don’t know these rules or guidelines, pick up a copy of “Woe Is I:The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English” by Patricia T. O’Connor. Another great book that presents grammar in with a humorous tone is “The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. I also recommend “The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magical and Mystery of Practical English” by Roy Peter Clark.

Learn the rules of punctuation. How to use the comma, exclamation mark, question mark, quotation marks, semi colon, colon. Essentially, you must memorize the rules. To learn the rules of punctuation, I suggest you read “The Glamour of Grammar” by Roy Peter Clark.

Learn to the major types of sentence styles and then use sentence variety in your work. The syntax of a sentence is an important feature of the writer’s voice. To develop your own voice, learn to write simple, compound, complex, compound-complex sentences. Learn when to use a sentence fragment and how to write using parallel construction. Learn how to use items in a series.  Learn how to write both periodic or cumulative sentences. Where can you go for advice? Pick up a copy of Sin And Syntax by Constance Hale or The Glamour of Grammar by Roy Peter Clark.

The language choices a writer makes important ingredient of the writer’s voice. Therefore, you should own a dictionary and thesaurus. Use them for enjoyment and to improve your language skills. Develop your language skills by looking up the meaning of words you don’t understand in a dictionary.  Find the precise word by checking your thesaurus, which includes synonyms.  To  expand your vocabulary, begin learning a word a day. Use the words you learn in your writing. Don’t write to impress. Instead, use language to express yourself, to communicate meaning, to entertain,  to share important ideas or knowledge or wisdom.

If you aspire to become a creative writer, you should also learn how to write imaginatively. Imaginative writing involves learning how to show and tell the reader, writing vivid descriptions of sensory imagery–language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. It involves using literary devices of simile, metaphor, personification, symbolism, and other devices that you find in fiction and poetry and creative nonfiction. There are countless books on the market that you can purchase. For a good overview on how to write creatively and imaginatively, I suggest you purchase “Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft” by writer/instructor Janet Burroway. It’s a superb text that will help you.

Another way to develop your voice is to share emotional truth in your writing. It means telling others how you feel. For instance, if you lost your job–tell your readers how it felt. If you were diagnosed with a serious disease, share your thoughts and feelings with your readers. If you split up with a girlfriend or marital partner, tell the audience how you felt by expressing the emotional truth. Keep in mind that two people can have different emotional views on a situation. And so , there is no right or wrong “emotional truth.” Emotional truth has to do with how you felt about a person, about an experience , about an event.

A few final points: It takes time to develop your writing voice, providing you write on a regular basis. Many writing instructors suggest you keep a journal and experiment in it. In part, developing  your voice is an unconscious effort–you learn by reading and writing, without making a conscious effort. In part, you can make a conscious decision to develop your voice. For instance, you can learn to read like a writer. You can learn grammar, spelling, punctuation. You can experiment with language and sentence variety. You can make a conscious choice about what sort of tone to use. The easiest way to develop your voice is to “put down on paper” what is on your mind or in your head, using your own words.

Your writing voice is what a reader hears when they read your words. Your writing voice is your “public persona,” which is expressed in your writing. It is revealed in the language that you use, the types of sentences that you use, and your tone–your attitude toward the reader and the topic or idea you are writing about.

To learn more about how to develop your developing and polishing your writer’s voice, read the following superb books:

  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale
  • The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English by Roy Peter Clark
  • The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon
  • Woe is I: the Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Connor
  • Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway

Writing Creative Nonfiction: Voice and Style

Dave Hood

Your writer’s voice and writing style are developed as you learn, as you experiment, as you master the art and craft of writing. The more you read, the more you experiment, the more you learn about writing, the more polished your writing becomes. Your voice and style emerge as you become a polished writer.

All great writers have a distinctive voice and style, which they learned, developed, and polished over time. For example, fiction writer Ernest Hemingway’s writing style is like minimalism art. His style is sparse. He uses short sentence, and write with nouns and verbs, applies adjectives and adverbs sparingly. His voice is conversational. Many fiction writers aspire to write like Hemingway. Why? Because they like his voice and style of writing.

If you don’t like the tone, or the voice, or the style of writing, you are likely find a personal essay, memoir, or any other creative nonfiction or fiction writing dull. When a work is judged to be dull, the reader will not proceed to read it.

In this article, I’ll discuss voice and style as it applies to creative nonfiction. (The same definition of voice and style applies to fiction and poetry.) The following will be covered:

  • How to analyze the voice and style of writer’s you like
  • Voice of the creative nonfiction writer
  • Writing style of the creative nonfiction writer
  • How to develop your voice and style

Analyzing the Voice and Style of Great Writers

To become a great writer, you must not only write on a regular basis, but also read like a writer. What does reading like a writer mean? It means analyzing the prose of the writers you enjoy reading, learning what sorts of sentences, diction, tone, voice, point of view they use.

In the July 30th, 2012 edition of the New Yorker magazine, Malcolm Gladwell writes a piece of creative nonfiction called ” Slackers.” He begins the literary journalism essay as follows: “Whenever I take the freeway west from Toronto to my parent’s home, I pass a park where I ran a cross-country race many years ago……” From Gladwell’s beginning, we get a glimpse of his writing voice and style. He uses everyday language, the first- person point of view (“I”), and has a friendly, conversational tone.

In the next section, Gladwell introduces us to Alberto Salazar, the great long-distance runner of a bygone era. Gladwell shifts point of view to third-person, referring to Salazar as “he”, and then begins to profile Salazar. We see that Gladwell makes use of the simile, writing “Salazar shuffled like an old man.” We see that he makes use of the short sentence with “Distance runners tend to be elfin.” We learn that Gladwell is speaking to the reader using everyday language, sentence variety, and the active voice.

You can improve your style and develop your voice by analyzing the prose of writers you like reading. Once you learn how they constructed their essays or memoirs, you can use their techniques, such as syntax or diction in your own writing.

The Writer’s Voice

What is voice? It is a confusing term, often misunderstood, or not understood at all, by those who aspire to become creative writers. One of the best definitions of “voice” is written by author, Jack Hart,  in Story Craft. He suggests that voice is the personality of the writer revealed in the  words on the page. For Hart,  voice has two components:

  • The persona of the writer. A writer has many personas. Some public. Others private. A woman can be a mother, wife, friend, artist, and so on. For each of these personas, the woman as a writer can express a different voice. To understand persona, ask yourself, what kind of personality is revealed on the page? Happy? Sad? Serious? Humorous? Friendly? Sophisticated? Condescending?
  • The position or narrative distance of the writer in relation to the true story. If I tell a story using “I”  or first-point of view, then I am close to the story, probably directly involved or a close observer. On the other hand, if I tell a story using “He/She” or third-person point of view, then I am telling the story from some distance, like a spectator watching a football match from the sidelines.

The writer’s voice is also revealed in the thoughts, feelings, reflections shared on the page with the reader.  This is especially true for creative nonfiction, which relies on the building blocks of scene, summary, and personal reflection, to tell a true story, whether a personal essay or memoir or literary journalism.

Why is voice important? Often, we make a decision to read to its completion a piece of creative nonfiction because we like the voice of the writing. Jack Hart writes that “voice plays a key role in attracting and holding readers, regardless of their subject.

In creative writing, the writer’s voice is an important quality of the writing, especially in personal essays and memoir. And yet, ” the “voice of the writer”  is excluded in so many types of writing. This is true for business writing, technical writing, academic writing.  It is formal writing, laced with jargon, clichés, and written in the third person. In essence, the writing doesn’t reveal the personality of the writer, nor does the writer use “I” or first person point of view. Hart refers to writing that excludes persona as  the ” institutional voice.”

When writing any type of creative writing, you must discard the “institutional voice.” Instead, work to develop a friendly, conversational voice, using everyday language.

The Writer’s Style

What is style? Hart, in Story Craft, suggests that style is different than voice. For Hart, style is the expression of the writer’s personality on the page. How does a writer express his style? There are many components of a writing style. In a general sense, style is everything the writer brings to the experience of writing–views, prejudices, biases, expertise, wisdom, knowledge, and so on.  But this does not enable us to understand a writer’s style as it applies to the writing itself. What, then, are the important components? Most instructors of creative writing will tell you that writing style includes:

  • Word choice or diction. Each word that the writer selects has a dictionary meaning (denotation) Does the writer use educated language, such as ten-dollar words or simple language, everyday language? Most words also have a connotation (implied meaning.) Many words have more than one meaning, depending on the context As well, a writer must strive to use language in a fresh and original way, which means that clichés should not be used. What are clichés? They are warn-out words or phrases that have become dull like old paint on a wall.  A clichés just makes for dull writing. As a writer, you must be cognizant of diction, connotation, and clichés.
  • Syntax or sentence variety. This refers to the length and types of sentences the writer uses–an intentional fragment; simple, complex, compound, or compound-complex sentence; periodic sentence or loose sentence; Declarative, interrogative, or exclamatory sentence; Parallel structure; items in a series. (If you don’t understand these different types of sentences, you ought to learn them and use them.  Sentence variety also refers to the length of the sentence. The writer can select a single word, a phrase, or a longer sentence. Short sentences speed up the pace; long sentences slow down the pace.
  • Figurative Language. You have many choices: metaphor, simile, allusion, personification, symbolism. Figurative language gives an infinite number of possibilities to develop your style. Figurative language is like different colours of paint you use to paint a memorable landscape.
  • Tone. It refers to the attitude of the writer towards the subject and the audience who will read the work. Some writer’s write in a friendly, intimate tone. Other writer’s write with authority and expertise. (There are many types of tone that a writer can use. Never use a condescending tone.) Humourist David Sedaris writes with a humourous tone.

How to Develop Your Writing Style

Writing Style evolves as you write. If you don’t write on a regular basis, If you don’t learn how to write, if you don’t study the writing of great writers, your style will stagnate. Here are a few suggestions on how you can develop your writing style:

  • Expand your vocabulary. If you read a word you don’t understand, look up its meaning in the dictionary. As well, if you don’t have a strong vocabulary, start by learning a new word each day, and then use it in your daily conversations and writing.
  • Read and learn the rules and principles and guidelines On Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
  • Read and internalize the advice in ” On Writing Well” by of William Zinsser.
  • Learn to read like a writer. Not sure how? Pick up a copy of Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. How do you read like a writer?  You read good writing in the New Yorker or some other publication.  You analyze the style, word choice, and structure of the writing, learning how the writer constructed the piece of creative writing.
  • Get in the habit of writing each day.  How? Keep a personal journal. The easiest way is to buy a pen and notebook of paper, then begin to write each day.  Write about what is important to you, such as a memory, interesting observation, “important moment.”The act of writing makes you a writer. When you write, experiment with your writing. Learn how to write a loose and period sentence. Learn how to write an inverted sentence. Learn how to write metaphors and similes and use personification. The more often you write, and experiment with your writing, the more original your style will become.
  • When you write, always be yourself. Don’t write in a breezy manner. Don’t use grandiloquent language. Don’t use inflated language. Don’t write as if you are someone else, like creative nonfiction writer, Malcolm Gladwell, or fiction writer, Ernest Hemingway. Begin by writing like you speak. Use the language that you use in daily conversation. Relax and write as yourself.

A Few Tips

Here are a few easy ways to improve your writing style and develop your voice:

  • Use the active voice. The verb performs the action of the subject. Examples: You composed a poem about summer….He hit the ball with the tennis racket…I pressed the shutter release, capturing a memorable photograph of a happy moment on the trip.
  • Write with concrete nouns and verbs.
  • Write with verbs that express some action. Examples: Jumped, climbed, punched……….
  • Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. By selecting the best “verb”, a writer can find a word in the dictionary or thesaurus that best expresses the meaning of the adjective and adverb.
  • Use sentence variety—long and short, simple, compound, compound, complex, loose, periodic, and so forth.
  • Write in a friendly, conversational tone. Start by using “contractions.” Image that you are writing to a friend.
  • Use everyday language.

If you want to learn more about voice and style, I suggest you read and learn from the Elements of Style by Strunk and White, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, and Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale. These are the best books for the lowest price on learning how to write. If you read, learn, and master the rules and guidelines in these books, if you also write every day, and if you read something interesting, like poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, even the newspaper, you’ll become an excellent writer. Perhaps you’ll even publish your work of writing art.

Resources

  • Story Craft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack Hart
  • Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for those Want to Write Them by Francine Prose
  • Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale

The Voice and Style of a Fiction Writer

All great writers, such as Faulkner, Chekhov, Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, Vladimir Nabokov, wrote their fiction with a unique voice and writing style.

Hemingway, for instance, wrote stories using a minimalist style. He used short sentences, nouns and verbs, short paragraphs, and vigorous language to tell his stories.

Cormac McCarthy also wrote “The Road” with a minimalist writing style. He often used short sentences, sentence fragments, and fancy vocabulary. As well, he did not use quotation marks to indicate that characters were speaking.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote the novel,” Lolita”, a tragic comedy using a creative style of long sentences and fancy words, irony and wordplay, such as verbal puns and anagrams.

Each of these writers narrated the story with a distinct voice and unique writing style.

In this article, I’ll discuss voice and style as it relates to  novels or short stories. The following will be covered:

  • Definition of voice in the story
  • Writer’s voice versus narrator’s voice
  • Definition of the writer’s writing style
  • How an aspiring writer can develop his/her voice and style

Voice of the Story

What is voice in fiction? Voice is one of the elements for analyzing fiction and a technique for writing a short story or novel. Voice is what the reader hears when reading the story. Voice is the narrator of the story.

Writers use several types of voices to narrate their stories. The important thing to remember is to keep the voice of the story consistent. Here some of the more common voices that writers use:

  • Conversational voice. As you read the story, you feel like the narrator is engaged in a conversation with the reader. The story is told using the POV of first person. J.D. Salinger uses this voice to tell the story of “Catcher in the Rye.”
  • Informal voice. It’s not as conversational. The narrator of the story uses everyday language. The story is told using first person or third person POV. Raymond told the story of “Cathedral” with an informal voice.
  • Formal voice. The narrator is detached from the main character as the story is told. The narration uses fancy prose and language. Both the stories of “Lolita” and “The Great Gatsby” were told using the formal voice.
  • Other voices. Writers have put into use many other voices to tell short stories or novels. For instance, Virginia Woolf used stream of consciousness. Other writers have used a lyrical voice like as though writing poetry.

 Writer’s Voice versus Narrator’s Voice

The narrator of the story is not the author or writer of the story. Yet, it is easy to confuse because some narrators do speak in a voice that resembles the author of the story. This confusion can also occur when a story has a first-person point of view or narrative. You need to be aware that the narrator or voice of the story is a construction, a technique used by the writer, to tell the story.

To decide whether to refer to the author or narrator of the story, ask yourself the following questions:

Are you quoting the text of the novel or short story? If so, you are referring to the narrator or voice of the story.

Are you asking questions about writing style, choice of diction, literary devices, such as simile, metaphor, symbolism? Then you are referring to the author’s voice.

The writer’s voice consists of the writing style and writer’s view of the world, such as his/her beliefs, opinions, values, personal experiences. Essentially, the writer’s voice is everything he/she embodies and puts into use to write the story.

Remember: The voice of the story is the voice of the narrator.

Writing Style of a Fiction Writer

What is writing style? It refers to the various literary techniques and stylistic choices the writer puts into use to craft the short story or novel. In particular, the writer’s style focuses on the following:

  • Writer’s choice of diction
  • Sentence length, sentence variety, syntax
  • Paragraph length

Writer’s Choice of Diction

Diction refers to the word choices of the writer. It all depends on the voice and point of view of the story. Here are some types of diction that writers use:

  • Profanity and vulgarisms
  • Obscenities
  • Contractions
  • Conversational and colloquial
  • Formal language
  • Fancy language

Writer’s Sentence Style

A good writer writes a story using different types of sentences and different lengths of sentences. Here are the common styles of sentences writers use:

  • Sentence fragment (phrase or dependent clause)
  • Simple sentence ( A single independent clause)
  • Compound sentence ( Two independent clauses joined by coordinating conjunction )
  • Complex sentence (One independent clause joined by one or more dependent clauses. A complex clause always has a subordination such as though, although, since, because…)
  • Periodic sentence ( modifiers + modifier +. Modifier…main clause at end)
  • Cumulative or loose sentence (main clause + modifier + modifier + modifier…)
  • Items in a series ( Main clause that includes series of items. Example: He wrote the first draft, revised it, printed a hard copy, handed it in to the professor.)

Writer’s Paragraph Style

There is no rule about how long or short a paragraph should be. Writers use different lengths, some very short, such as a sentence. Other writer construct long, detailed paragraphs.

Often writer’s craft a new paragraph for any of the following:

  • When a different character speaks
  • Shift in time
  • Shift in place
  • Change of action
  • New scene
  • Writing a summary

Some writers combine shifts in time and place and action, and so on. Other writers construct sparse paragraphs of only a sentence for dramatic effect. A short paragraph of only a single sentence is emphatic. A longer paragraph is has more detail, and so is slower in pace.

In the end, the choice of using short paragraphs or long paragraphs is a stylistic choice that each writer makes on his own, or with the assistance of an editor.

Developing Your Voice and Writing Style

As an aspiring writer of fiction, how can you develop your voice and writing style? In short, it takes time.

Essentially, you must experience life, read lots of short stories and novels, analyze the writing styles of great writer’s such as Hemingway, Chekhov, Atwood, Faulkner, Alice Munro, and many more. Write, write, write. In fact, you must write every day.

Here are a few suggestions for developing your voice and writing style:

  1.  Learn how to write well. Read and learn The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  2. Read and great fiction, such as Lolita, 1984, The Wars, Portnoy’s Complaint, The Road, Catcher in the Rye.
  3. Analyze great fiction. Understand how the writer used the element of fiction to craft the story. Understand how the writer crafted the opening and ending.
  4. Learn how to tell a story. A short story includes a motive, conflict, climax or turning point, and resolution.
  5. Read Francine Prose’s book “Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for those Who Want to Write them.”
  6. Learn the techniques for writing fiction. For instance, how to construct setting, create memorable characters, develop a plot, open and end your story. A good book to help you learn is Janet Burroway’s “Writing Fiction”, the Gotham Writer’s Workshop’s “Writing Fiction”, and Tom Bailey’s “On Writing Short Stories.”
  7. Read the great short stories in Norton Anthology of Short Stories, and then analyze them, to understand the writer’s style and literary devices used.
  8. Take a workshops or courses in writing short stories or novels.
  9. Write, write, write. If you want to become a writer, you must write. You must write every day. You must experiment with your writing. Start by keeping a journal.

In this article, I discussed the concept of voice and writing style. I also explained the difference between the writer’s voice and the narrator’s voice. I concluded by providing you with some useful suggestions on how to develop your voice and writing style.

If you really want to become a writer of fiction, you must work at it. Great writer’s learned the craft of writing fiction and read widely and deeply. You must do the same.

Use a Distinctive Voice and Intimate Point of View

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.