Let’s be honest.
Most How 2 Write guides suck camel dick. They regurgitate the same ol’ same ol’ blah blah that you have read a thousand times without adding nothing new. But if you’re an ambitious author like me, you want to learn new tips on improving your writing craft so you can sell more copies.
Doesn’t matter whether you’re a fiction or a non-fiction author, or any other kind of content creator–owning your unique voice will help you stand out from the masses and attract the readers you want.
James Scott Bell, a thriller author I’ve followed a while now on Twitter, has written a powerful little book about about creating your own narrative style called VOICE: The Secret Power of Great Writing
I’ve devoured it one sitting with eyes wide blasted and made enough Kindle highlights till my index finger ached. Down below, I reveal some of the best points of the book which will help you create a unique voice that could mean way more bucks in your bank.
In short, James Scott Bell says the following about voice:
- “It’s combination of character, setting, page turning.”
- A distinctive style, like a Sergio Leone film.
- It’s who you are.
- Personality on the page.
- It’s something written from your deepest truth.
- Your expression as an artist.
James has summarized these points in a ‘formula’ consisting of three parts:
CHARACTER background and language filtered through the AUTHOR’S heart, and rendered with craft on the PAGE = VOICE
James Scott calls this the CAP method:
C is for Character
A is for Author.
P is for Page.
Let’s dive straight in how each point works for developing your unique author’s voice:
C is for Character:
James Scott Bell suggests you use a Voice Journal for your character. That’s a simple, free-flowing write-up of your character’s thoughts that expresses his opinion from the first perspective. To make your character/voice more original, use a character archetype and give him a unique trait, like in my case–a space marine on Mars, originally from the US, who used to work for a Japanese tech company:
“Back when I was working in Neo-Tokyo, I used to walk ’round Shibuya on Sunday to watch all the crazy cosplay peeps. Young kids dressing up like Hitler with angel wings (no kidding) and cyborg animals playing e-guitar. Weird, but good times, man. It got better: climbing up Mt. Fuji, hanging out with Yukie under the Sakura trees, stuffing your stomach with fresh Ramen. Miss those days, especially on a goddamn hellhole like Mars with air so hot and hostile it kills you faster than space radiation…”
I’m going to use this ingenious Voice Journal every time for my main characters, because unlike the boring-ass biography form or character sheet, this method actually allows an insight into the character which creates his unique voice.
A is for Author
James Scott writes that in order to create your character’s voice, you have to feel his emotions. He calls it a symbiosis where you are the method actor becoming the character you write about. To achieve this, he offers a simple workout:
Define your character with five key emotions, and two life-altering events.
Key emotions might be: playful, fearful, angry, lost, suspicious, loving.
Use both positive and negative emotions. You want your character to be complex.
A life-altering event is something you dream up for your character. Maybe an inciting moment in your or your character’s life. In the space marine example above, the guy was loving his life in Japan and was devastated when he got conscripted to fight on Mars. His key emotions are: frustrated, lost, caring, loyal, angry.
Combine your life-altering event with the key tags and you’ll closer to creating that voice.
Now, go over each word and find in your own past a moment when you felt the same thing. Relive that past moment by remembering the sights, sounds, touches, and smells. Dwell on them until you feel the emotions afresh.
P is for Page
Scott’s final step is the writing itself. You want to get that voice, vibrating with your own feelings, on the page.
Which means feeling something as you write, whatever you write. To achieve that, Scott uses advice from legendary director Chekhov’s method called the psychological gesture.The foundation for this exercise comes from the fact that our physiology informs our psychology.
For example, if you want to have a depressive/melancholic character, you should breath shallow, slump your shoulders and maybe even hear sad music as you become your character. On the other side, if you want to create a strong, take-no-prisoner military man, you could sit up straight or even stand, listen to marching music and even talk out the dialogue with a roaring voice as you act out the character while you write.
Thus, it’s important to align your emotional state to the character you want to create. Act sad to write a ‘sad’ character, act tough if you want to create a toughie etc. Obviously, the same is true for writing non-fiction.
For example, whenever I want to create an inspirational blogpost, I look at my favorite upbeat fictional characters and ‘channel’ them, meaning, I pretend to be them while I’m typing the words. This mind-game helps me create the mood I want to evoke in my readers.
All those this touchy-feely advice makes me sound like some goddamn hippie wearing Birkenstocks, but it’s actual buck in the bank. In today’s age of insane competition, both in the indie writer and the traditional publishing realm, your voice will truly set you apart and attract fans that want to you read your next book. If you don’t manage to differentiate yourself in the busy consumer’s mind, he’ll forget about you and move onto the next.
Don’t let that happen.
Reread the tips above and/or check out the excellent book VOICE: The Secret Power of Great Writing by thriller author James Scott Bell.
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