How to find your authorial “voice.”

A DIY guide.

I decided on Monday that I would talk about this. On Tuesday Chuck Wendig, freelance penmonkey, posted 25 Things Authors should know about finding their voice on his blog, at which point I threw my hands in the air and went “Oh, fine, I won’t write a blog post then!”

(Because, let’s be honest, I am outclassed in every way, and that’s not a competition I want to get into.)

However, I read the post and then I read it again, and while it says many useful and entertaining things about finding your voice – many things which if you’re at all interested, you should go and read now – it didn’t quite say the one thing I was going to say. So I’m going to say the one thing anyway. Possibly in a slightly smaller voice than I might have done if I’d got in first. But then if I had got in first, I would be even more embarrassed and without the chance to say so.

Polite British self depreciating introduction over with, here’s what I was thinking recently about finding your style as an author. It’s couched in the form of a ramble about cover art, but there is a point in there somewhere, like a pin left behind in a tailored suit – useful if you can get it out, but a nagging worry if you can’t.

I started making cover art a while ago. It’s nice to have something that engages parts of your brain that writing cannot reach. When I set out to make my first cover, I had no idea what my style would be. I would have said it was a bit pretentious of me to hope to have a style at all. All I wanted to do was to put some pictures together in a way that would result in the sort of cover I could imagine on a book.

So I got some photos I liked and fiddled with them until they looked OK together, and paged through fonts until I found some I thought looked nice, and I made my first cover. I didn’t worry about style. I didn’t say “what’s going to be my signature move? What’s going to be the thing that identifies this as a cover by me, as opposed to someone else? What’s my cover artist’s voice?”

I didn’t say that because I was too busy trying to get the damn thing to work in a way that was possible and looked good to me, given all the stuff I wanted to include.

Rinse and repeat with several more covers, and I began to notice something interesting. I loved and admired covers with subtle colour in misty, soft-focus. I loved complicated covers with big design elements superimposed over textural brushes so the picture looked aged and painted-over and intricate. In short, I loved covers like this:

CaptainsSurrender300 or this UnderTheHill-Dogfighters300-2

But when I made cover art myself I consistently went for as few design elements as possible, choosing to make them as bold as I could. I went for hard-edged lines, sharp focus, strong colours, clarity and simplicity. This sort of thing:

wingmentry2 or this charlielargebw

and it dawned on me that without giving it a thought, I had achieved a recognisable style of my own. It’s peculiar and a little ironic that my style in no way resembles the things that I like. It’s odd that my own style came as a surprise to me. But it’s amazing and rather gratifying to find that I have one, and it came as a free gift with the process of just getting on with it.

Which is my conclusion, really. Don’t worry about finding your authorial voice. Just tell your stories in the only way you can get them to work, given the stuff you’ve chosen to put in them. Tell them in a way that pleases you, without worrying that other authors – even the ones that you love – do it differently. Do it your way, because you are you, so doing it your way is the only way for you to be authentic. Then, when you’ve done it for five books or so, your author’s voice will jump out and laugh at you and say “Stupid! You’ve had a voice all along. You write like this!” And it may be an odd surprise, but it should be a pleasant one, if only because it didn’t ever need to be a big deal.

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