Finding Your Voice: Word Choice and Tone

First let me say how sorry I am for being away so long — this is becoming a habit of sorts: binge blogging — but I’ve been under the weather for the last week and really not fit to write much of anything. But I’ve resolved to get back to the subject at hand and so I will…sooner or later. Just let me get another tissue and a cup of tea — I’m an unabashed whiner when I’m sick and I don’t care who knows it! – Alright, here we go…

Every writer has a “voice” — a style if you will — of creating sentences and stringing words together. This style can change slightly depending on what you’re writing but generally once you’ve found your voice, it becomes your distinguishing marker and it makes writing a heck of a lot easier (in a way). Finding your voice/style is not that difficult of a process, you just have to know what you’re writing, who is telling the story, and why. Remember ask “why” about everything, it’s the only way to understand what is at the core of what you are or are attempting to write. The same is true of tone; every story has a tone — a way in which it is written and read that conveys an emotion. What view of the characters and their world are you trying to get across to readers?  Are your descriptions flowery, straight-forward, menacing? Your tone should dictate your word choice as your word choice sets your tone. After a while the two will blend almost inconceivably in your mind and with the parameters set, your voice will emerge on the page. It’s not as confusing as it seems, it just takes practice!

When I was in High School I foolishly fought with my teacher on the subject of word choice, saying that no author sits there and painstakingly chooses EVERY word of their work. How overly proud and wrong I was though I didn’t know it at the time. It took about two years for me to figure out how horribly mistaken and silly I was for arguing about something I really did not know anything about yet.  Writers DO labor over every word they choose to use in the telling of their story, because every word has a connotation – a preconceived meaning, image, or notion – attached to it and that meaning can and does change the entire tone of the story. Does someone step out of a dark hall, or do they coalesce out of a dark hall? Do they chuckle, giggle, snicker, cackle? In the end someone is just stepping out of a poorly lit area and someone else is just laughing but the words used to describe these moments leave an impression, a tone that alerts the reader to be worried, happy, or frightened. A writer’s word choice and tone instinctively tell a reader how to feel about a specific character/setting/thing etc. A single word can change the meaning of an entire sentence…no pressure.

Once you’ve gotten used to and/or comfortable with all this, then come the difficult part: melding your voice with a character’s. Authors and characters don’t always agree on things; one sees something one way, the other another and therein lays confusion for everyone involved. This is where it gets personal with a writer and his or her characters, there isn’t much advice I can give on the matter other than this: remember, as a writer you are writing SOMEONE ELSE’S story, but again, YOU are writing it. If a character had strong feeling about something, there is always a reason, but as the writer you may be viewing the story as a whole, and are seeing something that your character does not. It’s a tricky, fine line to walk, but one that makes the bond between author and character that much stronger.

Don’t be afraid to play around with your writing; try different styles and unusual words (in moderation of course) and see what works and doesn’t work for you and whatever story you’re trying to tell. One character and story might demand flowery descriptions and an open, friendly tone, while another needs a tighter, more practical  approach. It’s all part of being a writer, take the differences in stride and know that once you’ve found your style, your voice, you can adapt  it to the proper tone — with the correct word choice – needed and create the story that’s waiting to be told!

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3 thoughts on “Finding Your Voice: Word Choice and Tone

  1. Thanks for the post. I’ve been a bit on edge about my writing. Little things can make your story powerful and consume the reader while they read. Though its been said I have “natural talent,” I learned that skill beats talent if its not worked at and refined. Reading this put me one step closer to being the greater novelist that I dream of becoming.

    • Thanks for commenting! I’m glad to have helped, that’s the main goal of this blog! 😀 Skill and talent are both important and both will develop over time with practice, but having “natural talent” does puts you ahead in the game. Good luck with your writing!

  2. Pingback: Finding Your Voice: Word Choice and Tone « keeperofthesword

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