A Writing Journey

Posts tagged ‘voice’

Dialogue Tags

Everywhere I look, people are making rules about dialogue tags. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it means words like said and whispered that come before or after dialogue. Let me tell you, some of these “rules” really tick me off!

First of all, writing isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. There are as many different styles as there are writers. Who should be telling me how to write? Me. Sure, there are really good articles and posts about how to IMPROVE your writing, but strict rules aren’t going to do it.

Rule number one that irks me is “only use said.” On the one hand, I can see the value of this. It can help us be more conscious of showing readers how characters feel (by giving more description of their actions) and I will admit, I’ve read books that only use said and it doesn’t bother me, as a reader. By the same token, I love reading books that use all sorts of dialogue tags – I really think it helps to express the mood and tone. And, if someone is twenty feet away, they don’t speak at a normal tone (which is how said is in my mind) so you need something different (like called or yelled – though yelled to me expresses a different emotion as well).

Another “rule” that I dislike is not using tags that cannot be done. As in, don’t use tags like hiss, growl, snarl, and so on. Many of the people who are making up these rules say that we shouldn’t use these tags because people cannot hiss, growl, or snarl. While that is up for debate (I mean, we don’t growl like dogs do but we have equivalent vocalizations), these tags can add to the story. If the scene is supposed to be quick-paced, saying that a character hissed something is much better than trying to describe minute facial expressions (though of course, I’m sure someone excels at describing those expressions and keeping the tension of the scene up – but it isn’t me).

The last “rule” I will mention in regards to dialogue tags is that many people say don’t use adverbs to modify the tag. Adverbs can be overused, I won’t deny it. I overuse adverbs, I know that. But I also know that they can be useful. For instance, sometimes people talk quietly without whispering or murmuring or muttering. Sometimes we have to use adverbs to successfully set the mood and tone.

My point is, as I said in a previous post, don’t let someone else dictate how you write. Learn everything you can about the craft, but when it comes down to it write the way you want. It will feel more natural and it will make you feel better about yourself.

Take care, fellow travelers.


Voice is something that is incredibly important in writing. Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, voice is what defines our writing.

Now, I have always had a hard time developing a compelling voice. My natural writing voice is analytical and very blunt.* My voice did well throughout college and became more set-in-stone and I am good at it. But this isn’t the best voice for writing fiction. Readers want some level of mystery, and a blunt analysis of the plot provides no mystery. My first couple of drafts were written in my natural voice and my main characters knew pretty much everything that I did fairly early in the story. As I redrafted, I focused on shaping a second voice – my Fiction Voice.

Well, my Fiction Voice was definitely a step in the right direction, but it felt aloof. Quest for Salvation is in the first person, and this new voice felt more third-person than anything else. That would be great, if I were writing that way. But I’m not and so I had to continue to develop my MC’s voice.

Lacey, my protagonist and narrator for Quest for Salvation, has a voice that is so much different from mine that it is sometimes a struggle to keep writing her way. I would never be able to write in her voice if I didn’t know her as well as I do, and yet sometimes I still think I have to know her better. After all, I have to know her better than myself, or my own voice will bleed into hers. Keeping in her voice was the hardest part of draft five, and I am sure there are places that still sound a little bit more like me than her.

Practice is what has gotten me to this point, and practice is what will carry me forward in my journey to keeping in character-voice. It’s a struggle, but it’s worth it.

How many voices do you have? How do you develop those voices?

Take care, fellow travelers.

*Maybe that’s because, as an introvert, I despise small-talk and prefer to get right to the point, leaving all the fluff behind.

I’m back – with some inspiration!

Hello, fellow travelers! All the graduation festivities are over and I am ready to pick up my blogging again. It was a hectic but wonderful week during which I got to see many of my friends and meet some new people, spend time with my family, and, of course, walk across the stage at commencement. The actual commencement ceremony was, in my opinion, lacking, but baccalaureate the night before more than made up for those shortcomings. Although I rarely attended any chapel or church service during my time in college, I decided that it would be fun to go to the baccalaureate service – partly due to the fact that two of my best friends were going and I wanted to spend more time with them. I am so glad I went. The sermon was about two connected things: starting the next phase of life and finding one’s own voice.

At any graduation there is a lot a talk about what’s next, and going out in the world to live life. Our campus pastor talked about how it can be scary and exciting at the same time – as anyone who has ever graduated (or done something entirely new) knows. But he also talked about how we have to go and experience life and all of its joys and mishaps in order to find our own voice. He talked about using the stories that we’ve been given by others to help shape our voice.

This spoke to me first because it has an undertone of writing – every writer has their own voice, every writer uses stories to make new stories.  But even more significant to me was talking about using stories to shape our lives, because my favorite professor always told stories in class, and always used them to teach us something new. Stories shaped his life, and he gave them to us and they’ve helped shape our lives as well.

Stories, whether they are from real-life or are fiction, can help shape us and help us find our voice – both our writer’s voice and the voice we use in the world, to make our feelings, thoughts, and beliefs known. These voices can be the same, or they can branch from a single place, like a tree, but the only way to find a voice is by living, experiencing, and listening to the stories around you.

To end his sermon, our pastor read us a poem called “The Mockingbird” by Mary Oliver, which can be found in A Thousand Mornings.

All summer

the mocking bird

in his pearl-gray coat

and his white-windowed wings


from the hedge to the top of the pine

and begins to sing, but it’s neither

lilting nor lovely,

for he his a thief of other sounds –

whistles and truck brakes and dry hinges

plus all the songs

of other birds in his neighborhood;

mimicking and elaborating,

he sings with humor and bravado

so I have to wait a long time

for the softer voice of his own life

to come through. He begins

by giving up all his usual flutter

and setting down on the pine’s forelock

then looking around

as though to make sure he’s alone;

then he slaps each wing against his breast,

where his heart is,

and, copying nothing, begins

easing into it

as though it was not half so easy

as rollicking,

as though his subject now

was his true self,

which of course was as dark and secret,

as anyone else’s,

and it was too hard –

perhaps you understand –

to speak or to sing it

to anything or anyone

but the sky.

Our pastor made the slight adjustment that we are given stories – we don’t “steal” them as a mockingbird might steal other sounds.

We are like the mockingbird, afraid to sound our own voice and instead pulling all the stories we hear to ourselves and simply replaying them. Too many people never find their own voice and simply repeat the things they have heard for their entire lives. What we need to do, in writing and in life, is be brave and let our voices be heard. Be yourself when people are around, try not to be afraid of what others will think of you for letting your opinion be heard. Share your voice with the world, even if you are still finding it. The only way to know what you believe and feel is by expressing yourself. Listen to the stories around you and let them shape you – let yourself find your voice and use it.

Take care, fellow travelers.

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