April 23, 2023: Teaching Writing Voice
Teaching writing is a complex mix of accepted technique and creativity. Art and science. Understanding the writing process, writing genres, purpose, audience, conventions, word choice, sentence construction, and after making sure we understand all of that, being creative and unique.
One of the most complex traits to teach, in my experience, is voice. I have spent a lot of time this spring, working on it with my students.
Like most aspects of writing, you cannot put it in your own work until you recognize it in the work of others. And even when recognizing it in the work of others, it can be hard to define. It can be explained as the way the writer’s personality comes through in his/her writing- “Voice should reveal identity, yet always bedistinct.”
Voice combines who we are writing for (audience), what we are writing about (topic), and how we feel about it (passion).
While voice may manifest itself differently in a fictional piece of writing than in a non-fictional article, it is important in both.
Does this piece of writing sounds like a real-person wrote it? Or does it sound dry, boring, bland, and almost robotic? Can we determine anything about who wrote this article? If it is fictional, does the narrator sound authentic? Am I evoking any kind of emotions in my reader? Those are some of the questions that have helped my student writers identify voice.
Once they have an idea of what voice is, they pull out their own writing and seek to uncover it in their own work. They do rely on the feedback of fellow writers at this point. This is their checklist for things to examine as they seek ways to spice up their writing:
- Vocabulary/Word Choice
o Clearly, we do not want repetition, or blandness in word choice, but we also want it to match our purpose and passion. What emotions are we trying to evoke? Does our word choice match that? If the piece is narrative, does the dialogue match the characters?
- Personal connections/details/anecdotes
o The similes and figurative language we choose to use can add much to the voice we are trying to capture. Do they match our purpose? Do they further our connection with the reader?
- Vary sentence structure and length
o When looking closely at this trait in our writing, we may have to take some time to really analyze our current work. Count the words in each sentence. Are they varied enough, or do we have too much similarity in length? Length can also help to support the sentiments we are trying to evoke in our reader, as shorter, stronger sentences can pack more of an emotional punch than longer ones.
o Look at the typical structure used. All subject-verb type of structure? Flip some sentences.
- Cultural references
o A fifty-year old writer/narrator is going to have different cultural references than a teenager. The text should reflect and reveal that. Think authentic. Do they sound real and relevant for this specific piece of writing?
Once my student writers discovered the power of voice in their work, they were eager to explore and build on it. The room cracked with energy as they jumped into their work-in-progress to uncover and reveal their own unique voice.