Use acting to find your writing voice

Writing voice is the prize: why we like particular writers of fiction and non-fiction determines what we read. Voice makes you salable.

The original question was: How to find your blogging voice.

But of course MY brain always goes from non-fiction to fiction, especially since I started blogging to have an outlet for my fiction, rather than my blogging leading to me writing fiction, so my fiction answer is longer, and it relies on something I never thought I’d use this way: basic training as an actor.

Voice creation/discovery

It is an odd question – how to find your voice – but most writers who read a lot have to consciously:

a) become aware that they are using voices from their reading, or from their teachers in school, or from wherever they’ve picked up ‘how you do voice.’

b) re-find their own.

Books have been written on ‘Finding your voice.’ Many of them. I have read a fair subset, picked up something from each. But it all comes down to that awareness first: ‘This doesn’t sound like ME.’

1) Finding my voice for fiction –

First person, second, third – close and distant, omniscient, narrator-driven. Each works in the right place, for the right story. I have seen them all done well – and poorly.

The professionals have written many a book – when I have a problem, I refer to my two favorites: Orson Scott Card (Characters & Viewpoint) and Alicia Rasley (The Power of Point of View).

I don’t like the romance version of voice that allows head-hopping in the same scene. I understand WHY it exists, but it doesn’t work for me. It isn’t a problem – romance is not my typical fare. I find omniscient pov works best for me if it is kept to a single character per scene, but can handle head-hopping if it is a regular feature, and the story is more important than the characters.

I have three main characters in the WIP. Andrew is Irish – with impossibly high standards. Bianca is an opportunist, full of cliches and self-justification for what she needs to do to succeed. And Kary deals with a background illness as she struggles to write – and live as much as she can.

It is getting easier to sink back into their persona and voices each time I switch pov: I read their last scene, and have a bunch of things only they would do. It feels satisfying to become someone else, if only for a while. It’s one of the more enjoyable aspects of writing fiction: once I’m done, I can wash my hands of them – and be myself again. But until then, I get to be someone I’ll never be.

There tends to come a point when the scene FEELS as if it were from their pov. I wait for that feeling, and can identify most of the things that interfere with it. If not, I just keep working it out on paper – I write far more words of notes than of fiction. Eventually, so far, that point always comes. I have a few rules for myself about how to do it, and I go read my own rules when I can’t figure out why something seems off.

Acting vs. writing

Even if you’ve never acted, you have seen and heard actors work: TV, movies, and now the web.

When I first started writing, I wasn’t able to see head-hopping, and I couldn’t tell voice. Once I let it become more like acting – do the work to BECOME the character and you can’t help but speak like he does – the question is easier technically, but requires that sinking-into-character feeling that tries to bring to the surface points the character and I have in common.

I use visual memory: I may not have acted (publicly) all that many times, but I have watched actors work, and I have listened to many actors talk about what they do. And I THINK about it: how would I do it?

I credit my acting teacher, Kelly Bencze Lake. She made me write a paper about how an actor conveys an emotion or gets a thought across WITHOUT the audience being able to see what goes on in his head, and I have never stopped watching with that in mind.

Videotapes and DVDs have made the process infinitely easier – I can watch as many times as I need. My head is stuffed with scenes where an actor, a GOOD actor, portrays betrayal or guilt or love. I can go watch how he does it, and give my interpretation of the body language to my character. Or better, use that as a starting point.

It would be exhausting to do that for every moment, every emotion. So for most things, I go with my gut. But for the critical points in critical scenes, I take the time, experience the emotion in my memory, look up all my written sources (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) on how to display an emotion in body language, and take the time to watch how a professional actor does it. Thanks, Kelly – it has made a world of difference.

2) For blogging –

Read a lot of blogs first. Then start a blog, and just do it. You can’t write post after post, expressing your own opinions about things that interest you, without finding how you like to write them. The first few may be awkward – but after you’ve blogged for a while, few viewers will be going back that far to read them. If they’re really bad, you CAN delete them.

Or even better, re-use the idea, write it better, and THEN delete the old version. Why lose perfectly good ideas?

It’s getting there – I write as I would speak to a reader who was in front of me: until the eyes glaze over. I imagine someone listening to me who can’t get away. Heaven help us if I ever teach writing. But as a successful homeschooling mom, the glazed eyes are as good a way as any to tell I’ve talked too long.

Or, to be less facetious and more honest, until I have had my say.

My biggest remaining problem is consistency of tone. The pronouns – I, you, one, we – don’t quite stay consistent yet (a holdover from the instructions not to start every sentence with ‘I’).

My problem: I’ve read too many blogs with each option – and they all worked for me: telling you what YOU should do, talking about ME and I, the distant version of voice that says “This is how ONE does it,” and the royal WE.

Acting for blogging

Blogging, like acting, is often a case of an expert (you) presenting information to an audience (viewers) to persuade them to consider your point of view.

Imagine yourself as Tony Robbins, as one of the speakers at a TED talk, or the presenter at a late-night infomercial, create your OWN persona as a presenter of information – not a carbon copy of one of the pros – the more self-confident, less angsty version of yourself with something to say, and ACT that way.

Most bloggers have the entertainment gene in there somewhere – why else would we want to tell perfect strangers what we think? Toss in any actual presentation skills you have learned, along with the ability to sing in public (if you have it), and go ahead and act as if you knew what you’re doing. You probably do and: there are no penalties for trying, no blogging police to seek out and destroy the wannabees.

Nothing to lose, one thing off the bucket list if you try. Come on in, the water’s fine and not a bit wet.

So how do YOU find your voice?

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2 thoughts on “Use acting to find your writing voice

  1. ABE Post author

    I really like the body language section of the ChangingMinds.org website – and books such as Reading People – How to Understand People and Predict Their Behavior – Anytime, Anyplace, Jo-Ellan Dimitrius and Mark Mazzarella. Humans use and read body language all the time – but we do it subconsciously.

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  2. Rachel6

    You’ve mentioned it before, but I needed the reminder about using body language to convey emotions. I’ve got a tricky scene in my head that will benefit from that tip.

    For me, the major balance is holding my own voice AND improving my writing…

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