By Jeanne Marie Leach 

An excellent writer in her own mind

 Anyone who’s been in a critique group has heard someone talk about not losing the author’s voice. You nod in agreement, secretly wondering exactly what that means.

Grammatically speaking, voice refers to whether the subject of a sentence is on the performing or the receiving end of the action. In sentences written in the active voice, the subject is the doer:

 Bob caught the Frisbee in his teeth (subject is Bob).

 In sentences written in the passive voice, the subject is acted upon:

 The Frisbee was caught in Bob’s teeth (subject is the Frisbee).

 In a passive construction, the person or object that is actually performing the action may be referred to in the sentence, but is not the focus of it.

As with much of fiction writing, misuses of voice don’t constitute actual errors, but do affect tone, importance and readability—all of which are issues of style, not of right and wrong.

The author’s voice is more elusive to understand. It is what makes them different from other writers and defines their writing style. I’ll talk about style a few paragraphs down.

Once you become aware of it, you’ll be able to see where your writing is contrived and doesn’t flow well. But an author who has developed a unique writing voice of their own has definitely grown as a writer. This is where you could pick up a book without a jacket nor any author identification, read it, and know this is the work of John Grisham or Nora Roberts. There’s something about an established author’s writing that becomes familiar to their readers. They could write the phone book in such a way that their loyal fans would recognize their personal, unique style.

When editing your own work of fiction, you should be able to recognize your natural “flow” of words by the end of the first chapter. If you don’t see this happening, you’ll most likely find the sentences flat and uninspiring. It may be contrived or difficult to read. This could be that you’re new to writing and haven’t developed your writer’s voice yet or that you strayed from your usual style of writing.

When critiquing others’ work, it is important to not change an author’s work in such a way as to remove their voice or the way they would say something and replace it with the way you would write it. The readers will definitely pick up on a book that has a confused voice.

I realize you may still be confused, so let’s get down to a more specific way to develop or recognize an author’s voice—style.

Style, when referring to writing, is the accumulation of all the writing rules used by the author. The writing style reveals the choices the writer makes in syntactical structures, diction, figures of thought, and speech.

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) is the preferred guide to these rules in fiction writing and editing. Do not use the AP Style for fiction.

The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style (CWMS) further delineates style for the Christian author, and includes elements not found in the CMOS. It includes many good references that can be used by Christian authors.

  • Biblical terms that should be capitalized
  • Biblical abbreviations
  • Capitalizing deity pronouns and which should never be capitalized
  • Correct usage of terms such as “born again”
  • Christian holidays, feasts and liturgical year – calendar placement, spelling, and styling
  • The King James Version’s contributions to modern idioms
  • Religious jargon that are almost cliché and should be used sparingly

There is so much more in the CWMS that I cannot list it all here, but these are the ones I use most.

Fiction style tends to use a more relaxed sentence structure. With fiction you can:

  • Begin some sentences with conjunctions, just not in consecutive sentences, and only if it bridges the previous sentence and the current sentence together.
  • End sentences with prepositions.
  • Use contractions, even in the narrative sections. Not using them actually creates a stiff, formal style not conducive to fiction.

Books in a series should all follow one style consistently. It is this consistency in style and usage of the writing rules that develops your writing style. This is why if you “break” a certain rule, do it all the time. This creates a fixed style and voice.

Readers love consistency in the authors they read. It builds a certain trust between the two, and that’s one of the reasons that will keep them coming back for more of your work.