When it comes to writing a book (or writing anything, really), having the right voice is incredibly important. Your voice will help draw your reader in and help him or her connect with you as s/he hears your words in his or her head. To help you get started, I want to go over the very basics of finding your writing voice. My hope is that you’ll be able to use these basics to not only improve your book, but maybe even to improve your blog, too.
WHAT’S YOUR TONE?
When trying to find your tone, there two big questions your should ask yourself. First, ask, “What topic am I writing my book about?” (Get help finding your topic here.) Then, ask yourself, “What tone do my readers expect for that topic?” If your book is a how-to, you may want to adopt a more authoritative tone. If you want to entertain your readers, you might use a more casual tone.
You don’t always have to take on a tone that’s expected of your topic—your readers could totally love a humorous how-to book. But, you should take some time to think through how you want your book to feel and sound. What impression do you want to give your readers? Do you want to throw more of your personality into your book, or do you want your book to be more professional? Ultimately, it’s up to you, but remember that your tone can really affect your reader’s experience with your book for better or for worse.
If you want to sound more authoritative, try to write more academically. Think about the type of voice you would use if you were writing a college essay. You’re probably going to use some bigger words, and maybe even longer sentences. You’re going to be more formal with the words you choose, and you may use more technical jargon.
An authoritative tone is perfect if you’re writing a book for people in a professional setting, like a business or even a self-help book. It’s also perfect if you’re positioning yourself as an expert in a subject. If you’re telling people how they should be doing something, whether it’s fixing their marriage or fixing a toilet, an authoritative voice works well. Does your reader need you to be firm about how to do something? Use an authoritative voice.
A conversational tone can really help you connect with readers. They’ll feel like you’re talking with them, and that you’re working hard to relate to them. A good conversational tone will make readers feel like they’re spending time with a friend. They’ll believe you care about them because you’re speaking to them on their own terms. If it’s important to build a relationship with your reader in order to help them understand something or make a change, a conversational tone is perfect.
If you want to sound more conversational, use more contractions. Write like you would talk to your boss. It’s less formal than an authoritative tone, but it doesn’t feel sloppy like a more causal tone sometimes can. Think less jargon, more phrases that anyone could understand. Don’t try to sound too smart with a conversational tone, or you’ll wind up sounding more authoritative. Also, with a conversational tone, you’ll start to throw some grammar rules out the door so your writing sounds more like how people talk. (An example: ending sentences in prepositions.)
I’m putting “casual” in a category apart from conversational. To me, a casual writing style or voice might use a lot of slang. You might even swear. (Maybe even a lot!) This kind of tone tends to work well if you’re talking about more casual, lifestyle-based subjects. A casual voice can also work well if you’re trying to reach a younger audience. (But, it can totally backfire if you’re an older writer trying to appeal to a younger audience, so be careful.)
A more casual tone can also work well if you’re writing for readers who need a little tough love. Sometimes rougher words are what they need to get motivated. Swearing at your readers in your book could shock them out of their comfort zones so they’ll get something done. Ask yourself, “Does my audience need a push? Would using tougher words help push them?”
The most important thing you can do with your writing voice is to be authentically you. If a casual voice just isn’t your thing, don’t force it! For example, I come from a background in academia (thus the PhD), and I’ve been writing for years and years with an authoritative voice. That’s what feels natural to me, so I don’t try to write in a more casual manner when that doesn’t feel right. You have to be true to yourself, or your readers will sense something’s off. Good writing ultimately comes down to making a connection, and you have to be yourself to create that connection with your readers.