Chip MacGregor

September 30, 2013

Finding Your Voice (a guest blog)


Fiction writers are told to find their voice. Well, what is it, and for that matter, how do you find it?

I mastered the mechanics of good writing by learning and following the guidelines or … stay with me here … the rules. It’s kind of like staying between the lines in a coloring book before taking on a blank sheet of art paper. Then, I began to understand when and how to break those rules to turn my manuscript into a symphony of words.

About that same time, I started a new series, and when I sent my critique partners the first chapter, they told me I’d found my voice. Cool. I didn’t know I’d lost it. I mean, I didn’t have laryngitis or even a sore throat.

Okay, I’m being silly and probably not very funny, so you can stop rolling your eyes. In truth, I’d been working on voice. I read Les Edgerton’s book Finding Your Voice. I highly recommend it if you’re still looking for yours.

In Edgerton’s book, he said go back and look at letters you’d written when you were young or at least before you began to write. There was your voice.

As I thought about that, I remembered how our friends always told me they loved my Christmas letters. Mine were the ones they actually read and looked forward to. If I was late with it I received a few “Where is it?” emails. Instead of a travelogue or a report on the kiddos’ doings, I made up stories about the major events of the past year, poking fun at us and liberally adding embellishments.

I pulled out those past Christmas letters and studied them. I noticed the cadence, the style, and the sound of them. That’s what I wanted in my fiction. I then tried a new game of “Name that Author.”

First, I went to a multi-author blog—it doesn’t work on any other type. (NOTE: This needs to be a blog of authors well known to you.) I chose Girls Write Out. Then, before I looked at the signature or by-line, I tried to guess who wrote it. Between the post and their fiction, I could see the similarity in the “voice.” It was natural and organic to the author. While some may have similarities, especially if they write in the same genre, each author does have a unique voice.

If you’re still developing your writing voice, read … a lot. Don’t copy another writer, but rather study what they do and how they do it. Then look at something you wrote before you started perusing a writing career. Forget the mechanics for a moment. What did the writing sound like? That’s most likely your voice.

Try it for a while and see what happens. 


Ane Mulligan is an editor with the popular literary blog Novel Rocket, a columnist for the ezine Afictionado, and serves as a member of ACFW’s Operating Board. She just signed a contract with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas for her next novel, Chapel Springs Revival. You can find out all about Ane at her website,

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  • Dawn Hill Shipman says:

    This voice thing is something I’m really trying to get on top of, and I’ve discovered the same thing as a few others commenters have–when I’m writing creative non-fiction, my voice comes through loud and clear. Even in my blog, which is Christian apologetics (something I don’t have the credentials to write a book about), I have a distinct voice…So why can’t I find it in my fiction? Grrr! Just gotta keep going, I guess. Thanks, Ane, for the post. 🙂

  • Normandie Fischer says:

    Love this, Ane. It’s such an important topic. I am reading a book from a new writer, published by one of the big NY houses. And what I find is that it reminds me of the last book I read from another of those NY houses. Both have an interesting story line, both are well crafted, well edited, but the voice doesn’t grab me, doesn’t make me feel as if I’m sitting across from the author, listening to her tell me a story. You know what I mean. That voice. The one you recognize.

  • Jaime Wright says:

    As a reader, voice definitely becomes the deciding factor as to whether I follow an author or not. I’ve even read some books by my fave authors where I go “really?” to something or other in the plot, but in the end, I don’t care because I just love their voice. THAT is a huge part of what entertains me as a reader. That and coffee.

  • Lynn Morrissey says:

    I also find this interesting, like your other commenter, Ron. I literally found my voice by writing Christmas newsletters–not brag sheets, but vignettes, based on our true-to-life experiences. I’ll never forget the first I wrote. It garnered many unintentional compliments, including those people who told me that they didn’t know I could write. Neither did I! I was just doing what I enjoyed. Over the years, people demand to know when they will receive the latest edition of our newsletter, and say that they keep Lynn files. =] I think the reason is that I am being authentic and singing the story in my own voice. Thanks for a great post!

    • Ane Mulligan says:

      Boy, what is it with our Christmas letters? LOL I think many of us found our voices through them. 🙂

  • Ron Estrada says:

    That’s interesting, Ane. I write a newsletter for our family company and really don’t think too hard about the little editorial pieces I put in. I have and 25,000 subscribers now and actually get fan mail from those readers…and our business is trailer hitches. You can’t get much more boring than that. My wife has commented that my fiction doesn’t sound like me, especially when a crit group was involved (which is probably the biggest pitfall of a crit group). So I’ve been working on maintaining that voice that gets me the fan mail. It’s tough because I tend to be quirky and sarcastic, which may get irritating after 200 pages, but I’m sure I can tone it down a bit. Thanks for the post!

    • Normandie Fischer says:

      Ron, I love this, the fact that you found your voice in your newsletter/editorials and now are trying to capture that same tone in your fiction. I find that writers of creative non-fiction (such as memoir and editorial) often have a well-honed voice and just need the courage to use it in their stories. Good for you.

      And you’re absolutely right about the danger of cloning in critique groups. As an editor, I saw this in a number of submissions and could recognize shades of the group instead of a unique voice.

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