Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. – C. S. Lewis
What is literary voice? The term isn’t easily defined. Some writers write fast-paced stories, whereas other writers’ stories move at a slower pace, with long sentences and paragraphs. A writer’s literary voice is unique—original— and sets writers apart from other writers.
Let’s look at two excellent examples of literary voice. Our first one comes from Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839). He writes in a dark, gloomy voice.
During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was—but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible.
Our second example comes from William Faulkner’s famous short story, “The Bear” (1942). He writes in a stream of consciousness, using long sentences and other devices to imitate the natural thought processes we use.
He was ten. But it had already begun, long before that day when at last he wrote his age in two figures and he saw for the first time the camp and Major de Spain and old General Compson and the others spent two weeks each November and two weeks again each June. He had already inherited then, without having seen it, the tremendous bear with one trap-ruined foot which, in an area almost a hundred miles deep, had earned itself a name, a definite designation like a living man.
Developing Your Literary Voice
Each writer develops his/her own voice through lots of writing and practice. As we grow in our craft, we’ll discover our own unique voice that sets us apart from others. We must choose our words carefully (diction) and arrange them in grammatically correct ways(syntax) to express our thoughts in a voice unique to us.
Punctuation also plays a role. If we hear a pause in our prose, use either a period, semi-colon, or comma. Which mark we use depends on the pause’s length, something we’ll discuss later.
Things to Avoid
- Monotonous writing. Monotonous writing has no personality. To give it personality, mix long sentences with short sentences, long paragraphs with short paragraphs, and vary different types of sentences within a paragraph. .
- Wordiness. When writing sentences, whether they’re long or short, be sure every word used contributes to the sentence’s clarity. That is, be concise. This means getting rid of all unnecessary word(s): cut the clutter.
Have you found your literary voice? If not, keep on writing and eventually, you will.