This is a tricky subject with much controversy and discussion. New writers (especially fiction and fantasy) are apt to say, “I write in my own way. I have a different way of saying things. Sure, it’s not like everyone else, but I’m not everyone else. Take it or leave it. If people don’t buy my book as I wrote it, then they’re too stupid to recognize great literature.”
Yikes! Hold on there partner. Before we go down that road, let’s examine a few issues. You may be unique in your style, and your style might lend itself to the story being told, but the bottom line is . . . can anyone else read it and enjoy it? Uniqueness has it’s place, but it’s most successful when used sparingly and with a select (and often very narrow) audience. There are several key questions that you must ask yourself before stepping onto this slippery slope. Is this approach pertinent to the story, or is this my ego talking? (Be honest.) Who is my audience and will they be receptive to this approach? Even if they open the book, will they have to struggle to read it? How many copies can I sell if it’s published in this form? Is this declaration of independent style really an indication of fear?
Honestly, there have been a few authors through the ages who’s unique style and methods of writing have changed lives and received rave revues, but very few. And what about your audience? Will they continue to read page after page if your style and usage is vastly different than what they are used to? And will you sell many copies this way? Probably not.
Did I mention fear? Oh yes, I did. Fear of being like all the others. Fear of not being prepared or properly researched, and being found out. Fear of not knowing the basics of style and writing as well as you should and falling short of the mark because your skills are not where they should be. Fear of failure. Fear of success (which is really the fear of achieving success, then losing it all and having the world watch you do it).
My advice in this arena (initially) is to stay with the tried and true, hone your writing skills and ground them in basic and traditional usage. After all, most of the published works out there follow this path. Success can sometimes be achieved by other stylistic means, but writing itself is often a struggle, so swim with the current on this one. This doesn’t mean that you can’t develop your own voice. That’s an entirely different ball game. At least in the beginning, go with what usually works. Stretch your stylistic wings carefully and at appropriate moments, but try to remain airborne at all times.
Voice is a difficult thing to tackle or even recognize, especially if you are new to the writing scene. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that voice and style are the same thing. Not so. I’m not the best person to address this subject and my opinions are certainly just that . . . opinions. I do not have an English or literary degree. What I bring to the moment is experience and observation. Maybe not the best, or the worst, but experience nonetheless.
You know that when you pick up a novel by Stephan King or Dean Koontz or Danielle Steele, each of them has a different feel. There is a different rhythm, a mystical, hidden watermark that defines their works from anyone else’s? That’s voice. But wait, you say. That’s just a different style of writing.
Don’t confuse style with voice. Word usage, paragraph hierarchies, punctuation, use of first (or third) person references and baselines — these are the elements of style. But voice is the subtlety of movement between words and passages, the tempo as defined by commas or descriptive adjectives or paragraph breaks, the intensity of emotion passed from the author to the reader (or lack thereof), and the general feel of the piece from beginning to end. Each author develops a unique voice over time, and can even be influenced on occasion by his or her peers. It’s something that is apparent in non-fiction authors as well.
Compare style and voice to the way humans walk. We all walk if we are able. Some have the style of plodding, some bouncing, others walk with purpose, or even a leisurely, relaxed lilt. The deeper subtleties of walking style might include a wiggle in the hips (or not), walking with toes turned in our out, taking large strides, or taking petite steps. Then the voice, or individualized style might include how the arms move, or that the head bobs from side to side, or that the breathing is in or out of tempo with the steps. In other words the tiny, individualized movements of each person and how they integrate that with their style of walking might be looked at as the voice of walking. Many are similar in their basic nature, but no two are exactly alike.
Elusive and alluring, your voice will come in time. It is personal and is always a work in progress. It will define your creation in subtle and unique variations, but it will come. Don’t dwell on it. It will emerge on it’s own as you develop your writing, and your writing will redefine your voice.