©2020 Bobbie Christmas
Agents and publishers say they want manuscripts with a fresh voice. What the heck is a fresh voice, and how can you find yours?
What’s a Fresh Voice?
The answer to the first question, what is a fresh voice, is simple. It’s a writing style that differs from the dull, plodding writing that most people submit. Most of us write the way we speak, and most of us speak using the same words and phrases everyone else uses. We overuse favorite words and get wordy in general. It’s natural, because that’s how we speak. We think the way we speak should be our voice, but it’s not true when it comes to creative writing. To be fresh, your creative-writing voice must be different, concise, descriptive, and alluring.
How can you break away from the pack and find your fresh voice? The answer may seem complicated, but it’s not. Chances are you have that voice inside you; you simply have to slow down to find it. I will tell you how.
First Things First
As I often say in my keynote speeches at writing conferences, while you write your first draft, don’t worry about editing, clarifying, or rewriting. Don’t worry about your voice. Simply get that first draft finished from the opening page to the final chapter. The right side of your brain is your creative side, and while you produce the first draft, you want to draw on your creative nature. Use all your right-brain thinking to complete that first draft. After you type “The End,” the challenging work begins.
Now for the Tough Work
You have completed your first draft, so it’s time for your second draft. Beginning with your second draft and for every draft thereafter, you will draw on the left side of the brain, the analytical, critical side.
To find your fresh voice, you will apply some of the techniques I suggest in my book Write In Style. I can’t give away all my secrets in one report, so if you want to learn more, buy the book either on my website (ZebraEditor.com) or on Amazon.
Find That Voice!
To find your fresh voice, you will use my Find and Refine™ method to find the dull words and superfluous wording that other writers use. You will delete everything that’s unnecessary. You’ll spot dull words and replace them with exciting, enticing, alluring, and more descriptive words. Doing so may take some thinking, but you’ll be thinking with the analytical, critical side of your brain, so it will be easier than you imagine.
When we buy a cabbage we must peel off all the bruised or dried leaves to reveal the garden-fresh vegetable at the core. My Find and Refine™ method works in a similar way. You will use the Find function on your computer to find the weak, worn-out, or superfluous words in a manuscript. You will then peel them off—delete or refine them—to reveal your fresh voice.
Start by using the Find function on your computer to find each of the following words in your manuscript. Often, but not always, you can delete these words without changing the intent of the original sentence. Why delete extraneous words? Because tight writing is strong writing, and strong writing leads to a fresh voice.
Are you ready? Use the Find function on your computer to find and probably delete the following words:
Well (when used in dialogue)
Examples: Instead of this: She sat down on the sofa you’ll have this: She sat on the sofa. Instead of this: I just wanted to see what would happen, you’ll have this: I wanted to see what would happen. Instead of this: “Well, I wondered what she meant” you’ll have this: “I wondered what she meant.”
A word of caution: reread each sentence you change to be sure it still makes sense.
Write In Style details many more superfluous words to delete, but the six above will get you started. You may be surprised how many times they appear in your manuscript.
Adverbs Beg for Stronger Verbs
Creative writing teachers will tell you that adverbs should be avoided, but we naturally add them in while we write our first draft. Not to worry! When you use the Find function to search for adverbs, those adverbs are often a way of saying the verbs they modify may need to be more robust. Once you spot an adverb, delete it, and make the verb or the surrounding sentence stronger, your fresh voice emerges further. For example, instead of this: Scared, Jim walked slowly into the silent house, you may recast your sentence to something more descriptive, such as this: Jim wiped sweat from his forehead and his heartbeat quickened when he stepped over the threshold and entered the silent house.
How can you spot adverbs? Simple. Use the Find function and type in “ly.” Not every word that ends in “ly” will be an adverb, but many of them will be. In addition not all adverbs end is “ly,” but most of them do.
Some Verbs Call for Stronger Verbs
Use your Find function to find any form of these verbs:
Start, started, starting
Begin, began, beginning
Those verbs not only tend to be overused but also often (but not always) lead to infinitives or gerunds that are weak verbal forms rather than action verbs. Once you locate those words, you may change sentences this way: Instead of this: Whenever she began performing on stage, she started to feel sure of herself you may write this: When she performed on stage, she felt sure of herself. Instead of this: If she started to speak, people listened you may recast the sentence this way with the stronger verb: If she spoke, people listened. Instead of this: He was beginning to learn Spanish you may recast the sentence this way with the stronger verb: He studied Spanish.
These tips will get you started on finding your fresh voice. While you work on your second and future drafts you will spot these words, stop for a moment, and think about each sentence where they appear. You will then use your analytical mind to give more power to each sentence. Soon you will see your strong, tight, and fresh voice emerging from your writing.
For more creative-writing tips and things to Find and Refine™, purchase Write In Style, available in paperback and e-book at https://www.zebraeditor.com/book/write-in-style-how-to-use-your-computer-to-improve-your-writing/.
Bobbie Christmas is a book doctor, owner of Zebra Communications, and the author of books about creative writing, including Write In Style, Ask the Book Doctor, and Purge Your Prose of Problems.
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