I know it when I see it. But I must admit I’m not sure I’ve discovered mine.

Maybe a writer takes a while to recognize their own voice? Either way, it’s the most elusive skill/trait that I’ve come across in my own development.

Which leads me to an article by David Farland.  You can read it in full here if you want. His topic was dialog tags, and I found it to be incredibly balanced. Using adverbs tagged on to “said” is okay every once in a while. Changing “said” or “asked” for stronger verbs when appropriate is good too.

However, he also said he believed that following the hardline rule of only using “said” or “asked” and outlawing any adverbial modifiers could be responsible for squashing the voice of a generation of writers. In the end, our stories have become so whitewashed to fit a certain style that everyone sounds the same.



When agents are asked what makes a submission stand out, more often than not they say, “I’m looking for a unique voice”.

So, why do agents decline representation due to amateurism?

Trust me. I don’t want to see a bunch of “he chortled, she mumbled, or he gasped” in a book either. The excessive use of hokey dialogue tags drives me batty. But it would take both my fingers and toes to count the number of times a good writer has heard from an agent, “You used an adverb on page two – That’s telling. – You need to show better”.

The first agent I met with, after reading  the opening pages, said I needed to work on showing not telling. Why? Because I used an adverb in one paragraph. I asked if that was it. The agent replied yes.

Guess what I did?

I removed every adverb from my book. And why wouldn’t I? If that was the only reason the agent could give for declining to see more of my work, isn’t it the smart thing to remove that one obstacle so it didn’t happen again?

That was three years ago. I’ve grown a bit in my writing, and I’ve come to understand there’s right and wrong times to use certain parts of speech. There’s a time to tell and a time show. But I’m still left wondering.

Are agents mentioning the “rule-breaking” because the writer’s voice doesn’t grab them? Are good stories that follow the “rules” missing their full potential because the “rules” are stifling their voice?

I don’t know the answer to either  But I do have questions.

How does a writer cultivate their voice so it grabs an industry gatekeeper in such a way that they’re willing to work with the “rule-breaking” traits of that writer?

Or how does a writer develop their voice in a unique way while staying within the accepted norms of the craft?

Both can be done. I’ve seen it. I just want more of it in my own writing 🙂

What do you think?

About Will Ramirez

Will Ramirez grew up with a love for God's Word and fantastical worlds. The first passion led him to pastor Calvary Chapel Lighthouse for the the last 17 years. The second led him to create the world of Adme, the setting for his coming debut novel, an epic fantasy titled Soul Yearning. He lives in Central Florida with his bride of seventeen years and their four children. Since 2010, he's been a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and serves on the leadership team of Word Weavers of Orlando. He is currently working on the second book of the Godslayer series as well as The Unspoken, book one of a dark fantasy trilogy. In the land of Adme, powerful beings rule as deities and compete with one another for followers. But when a young priest is revealed as the prophesied godslayer, the pantheon unites to destroy him.

2 comments on “Voice

  1. I think you are on to something. Imposition of non-rules definitely is a voice suppressant. Like when people tell me not to use big dictionary words or long, complex sentences. That’s my voice, people…back off. 😉

  2. “god” passed away recently, i.e. Elmore Leonard, and I hope HIS rules pass with him. They are not MY rules and should not be anyone else’s. What did Mr. Leonard know about the needs of writing speculative fiction? Nothing. Neither do many writing pundits who prate these rules as mindless mantras and idiotically assume (that’s an -ly adverb modifying the verb like adverbs are supposed to) every genre is the same as the next. Utter ignorance of language. You have nailed it with iron spikes. What you describe is exactly what is happening. One size fits all, we all write the same thing the same way. Never! Let the AUTHOR’S VOICE speak, and no one else’s. This doesn’t abrogate good editing. Anything can be overdone, whether adverbs, similes, participles, favorite pet words. But we should never impoverish our writing by amputating the riches of the English language to satisfy the irrational eccentricities of stylistic iconoclasts like Leonard, or anyone else. Subject-simple past tense-no adverbs-no verb but said-period is not style. It is Third Grade composition, if that. Bravo to your post. We need more like them. Thousands more.

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