December 22, 2017

How Do You Discover an Authentic Narrative Voice?

By Steven James

At one of my book signings a couple of years ago, the bookstore owner exclaimed, “Oh, Steven, if someone gave me a page to read and didn’t tell me who it was by, I could always tell if it’s a Steven James novel.”

I was intrigued. “How?”

“Your voice,” she said matter-of-factly. 

It made me wonder if my writing was too similar from one book to the next, but then I realized that, for whatever it was worth—good or bad—at least this one reader found that my writing style was easy to identify. 

And I guess that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

Voice is the unique flavor of your prose, your distinctive slant, the way your words resonate with readers. It’s authenticity rather than posturing. I sometimes teach aspiring novelists to favor relevance over eloquence as they develop their own narrative voice. 
In real-life conversations you can usually tell when someone isn’t being straight with you, or contrariwise, when they’re telling you what they think they’re supposed to say. 
I think it’s the same with writing.

When I review the work of aspiring authors, I often find that, although they might render a scene with technical proficiency, the writing feels forced or worse, dishonest. The characters don’t ring true. They’re artifices. Automatons. The voice is bland. The writing could be coming from anyone.

In a world filled with people concerned about impression management, authenticity is one of the most attractive qualities about a person.

And about a writer. 

So, how do you uncover your voice?

Here are four steps to take.

(1) Drop pretenses. 
Stop thinking about what people will think of your work. Let your story ring with emotional resonance and you’ll have been poignant without even attempting to be. Confidence speaks volumes.

(2) Stop showing off.
Whether that’s in the form of stylistic conventions or research, strip all that nonsense away. Readers will notice when you’re not being authentic, but when you are, they’ll just be drawn into the story and won’t really notice it either way. 

(3) Don’t be Avant Garde.
Don’t be different just for the sake of being different. Let the voice grow as you write, make sure it’s consistent throughout your story, and let it emerge naturally rather than trying to force things to go in a preconceived direction.
Let the story emerge from a genuine place inside of you. Voice doesn’t come from narrative tricks or literary gimmicks. 

(4) Treat your readers with respect.

Don’t “write down” to them or try to get things past them. Assume they’re smart, discerning, and that they value their time.

Trust them. 

Avoid explaining too much.

And let every page come from the honest core of who you are. 
Steven James is a national bestselling novelist whose award-winning, pulse-pounding thrillers continue to gain wide critical acclaim and a growing fan base. Suspense Magazine, who named Steven’s book THE BISHOP their Book of the Year, says that he “sets the new standard in suspense writing.” Publishers Weekly calls him a “master storyteller at the peak of his game.” And RT Book Reviews promises, “the nail-biting suspense will rivet you.”Equipped with a unique Master’s Degree in Storytelling, Steven has taught writing and storytelling on four continents over the past two decades, speaking more than two thousand times at events spanning the globe. Steven’s groundbreaking book on the art of fiction writing, STORY TRUMPS STRUCTURE, won a Storytelling World award. Widely-recognized for his story crafting expertise, he has twice served as a Master CraftFest instructor at ThrillerFest, North America’s premier training event for suspense writers. Respected by some of the top thriller writers in the world, Steven deftly weaves intense stories of psychological suspense with deep philosophical insights. As critically-acclaimed novelist Ann Tatlock put it, “Steven James gives us a captivating look at the fine line between good and evil in the human heart.” After consulting with a former undercover FBI agent and doing extensive research on cybercrimes, Steven wrote his latest thriller, EVERY DEADLY KISS—a taut, twist-filled page turner that is available now wherever books are sold.

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