Now you’re up and running with your piece, you will be working with a dynamic interaction of voices. Voice is at the heart of your vocation (pun intended) – devote yourself to its mastery and you’ll always be both engaged and engaging.
As a going human concern, you have three voices. We could argue this point, but three gives you enough to think about as a writer. You have the audible voice with which you speak to the world, and with which you will read your work aloud when required to by the plethora of festivals and events which will dominate your weekends and travel plans for the rest of your professional life – if you’re lucky. Reading your work aloud helps you spot those clunky areas that your mouth refuses to engage with. Change them.
You also have an interior voice – the one that runs through your to do list, notes unmentionable complaints, narrates your life and understanding of reality. This voice also helps you rewrite your work, running through it to see if it is smooth when necessary – or bouncy, snappy, abrupt, achingly melodic and so forth. Using the inner voice can save you the bother of reading everything aloud like a disturbed parrot and mimics your reader’s experience. So don’t rush rereading – use it.
Then there’s your voice on the page – probably your least developed voice, because even the most anti-social would-be typist doesn’t confine themselves to written communication during everyday interactions. This voice blends inner and outer, using whatever tones of address your narrative requires.
As a developing writer you can strengthen your literary voice by improving your speaking voice, perhaps by singing, or working with a coach and this, in turn, will make reading your work aloud easier and more effective. (Reading well helps sell your work and makes public performance less of a confidence-denting ritual humiliation.) Listening to the different strands of your voice will aid your journeys in musicality.
Writing isn’t just about marks on paper or a screen. It is described in auditory terms – rhythm, onomatopoeia, puns, lyricism/songfulness etc. – because it creates a kind of music inside our reader’s head. Books allow your readers to hear you in your absence, which is more convenient for them than putting up with you in person. Attend to your words’ musicality and it will help you. Musicality will happen anyway – make sure it aids your purposes. Writing is a hypnotic form: watch any good hypnotist – appropriate musicality is at the heart of what they do.
And when you know your characters, their multi-stranded voices will blend with yours making something unique. Yes, love stories have been done – everything has been done, but your unique voice, interacting uniquely with your characters’ voices – that is a new thing in the world.
The last voice to be added will be your reader’s. They will read you in their voice. Guide them with rhythm and melody and they won’t go astray, they will harmonise.
This article is from a series of ‘How To...’ guides for emerging and developing writers, written in 2018/19 by A. L. Kennedy.
A. L. Kennedy was born in Dundee in 1965. She is the author of 17 books: 6 literary novels, 1 science fiction novel, 7 short story collections and 3 works of non-fiction. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She was twice included in the Granta Best of Young British Novelists list.
Her prose is published in a number of languages. She has won awards including the 2007 Costa Book Award and the Austrian State Prize for International Literature. She is also a dramatist for the stage, radio, TV and film. She is an essayist and regularly reads her work on BBC radio. She occasionally writes and performs one-person shows. She writes for a number of UK and overseas publications and for The Guardian Online.