August 12 – 18: “What is voice, and what advice can you give to aspiring writers to find their own?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Some questions are more difficult to answer than others. To that end, this week’s line-up of ITW Members, Andy Wolfendon, Lynn Chandler Willis, Ellison Cooper and Aoife Clifford, will address the all-important writer’s voice. What is it, and what advice can you give to aspiring writers to find their own? Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along. You won’t want to miss this!


Ellison Cooper has a Ph.D. in anthropology from UCLA, with a background in archaeology, cultural neuroscience, ancient religion, colonialism, and human rights. She has conducted fieldwork in Central America, West Africa, Micronesia, and Western Europe. She has worked as a murder investigator in Washington DC, and is a certified K9 Search and Rescue Federal Disaster Worker. Her debut novel, Caged, was named one of the best books of summer by Publishers Weekly and the New York Post. She now lives in the Bay Area with her partner and son.


Andy Wolfendon is a ghostwriter of over sixty books for adults and children. His screenplays have been optioned numerous times in Hollywood. He has written/designed over twenty-five computer and video games, many of which have won major industry awards. His award-winning stage play Empties has had multiple productions. Andy has done scriptwriting work for Blizzard Entertainment, Disney, Titanium Comics, Viacom, and other entertainment companies. FISHERMEN’S COURT is his first novel.


Aoife Clifford is the author of All These Perfect Strangers, which was long-listed for both the Australian Industry General Fiction Book of the Year and the Voss Literary Prize. Born in London of Irish parents, she grew up in New South Wales and now lives in Melbourne. Clifford has won two premier short story prizes for crime fiction in Australia, the Scarlet Stiletto and the S.D. Harvey Ned Kelly Award, among other prizes. She has also been shortlisted for the UK Crime Association’s Debut Dagger.


Award-winning author Lynn Chandler Willis was the first woman in a decade to win the Private Eye Writers of America’s Best 1st PI Novel with her Shamus-nominated book, Wink of an Eye. Her traditional mystery series featuring newspaper publisher and reporter Ava Logan kicked off with Tell Me No Lies. The series continues in June and July 2019 with Tell Me No Secrets and Tell Me You Love Me. Her first published novel, The Rising, won the Grace Award for Execellence in Faith-based Fiction. Her work usually features small towns with big characters. She lives in the heart of North Carolina with Finn, a rescue border collie, and hopes to one day retire to the Appalachian region she often writes about.



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  1. Voice, it seems to me, is both the easiest thing for a writer to find and the most elusive. If you chase after it, trying to find it, it will probably elude you. You’ll end up imitating others or self-consciously adopting a “style.” It won’t be authentic.

    To find your authentic voice means to be consistently honest in your writing, to always express your ideas in a way that feels right and true to yourself. I wrote a piece about this for The Big Thrill a couple of months ago called “The Post-It Note That Saved My Career.” The Post-it note I was referring to is “Paint From Life,” which I stick on my monitor when I’m writing fiction. It means always going back to the source—life itself—and trying to capture people and things and events and dialog in words that feel experientially true to you. It means not allowing yourself to become lazy and use recycled phrases you’ve picked up from other writers—unless those phrases ring alive to you as well.

    I read a quote recently that went something like, “The truer you are to yourself, the more you will appear as an original to others.” You already are an original—that’s a given—so if you want to be seen as an original, just be true to your own instincts. You don’t have to try any harder than that (that’s challenging enough). In your writing, use words that feel natural and exciting and funny to you. Delight yourself as a reader. Don’t worry about anyone else. The great paradox is that the more you write for an audience of one (yourself), the more original—and universal—your work will be. And the more fun you will have writing.

  2. When I first started writing fiction, I knew I should try to “find my voice” but I had no clue exactly what that meant.

    Hoping to find my voice, I started writing at least one short story a month and let myself experiment wildly with all the things that I believed constituted MY VOICE (said in an authoritative tone) including style, perspective, and narrative structure. I wrote hard science fiction, reality based techno thrillers, literary coming of age stories, wild west mysteries, hardboiled noir, high fantasy, and everything in between. I wrote dry, academic works and absurdist humor. I wrote about angry young women and silly old ladies.

    I was looking for my “true self” as a writer because I knew that would make me unique in the competitive world of publishing. What I eventually realized (after a few years of writing almost every day) was that voice doesn’t really exist because I can write in many different voices.

    Not that I don’t have a true self as a writer, but I think the concept of voice does a disservice to writers trying to improve because it implies that there is a tone or style that is somehow inherent to one’s self. Yes, being humorous or gritty or whatever might be part of my “brand” as a writer, but, as I get better as a writer, I realize that I can write from many different perspectives.

    What I eventually figured out is that voice isn’t inward facing. I spent all that time naval gazing when I should have been looking outward. I’ve come to believe that voice is actually about what I want to communicate and how I want to communicate it.

    Now, when I’m starting a new book, I ask how I want to make the reader feel. What story do I want to share? And I definitely don’t mean chasing trends or trying to figure out what will be a best seller. I’m talking about authenticity and passion because I ultimately think that readers want authentic stories and they can tell when something is emotionally real.

    So how to find this elusive authenticity? Learn the craft of writing (however that works for you — writing classes, retreat to a log cabin and write for 4 years, get up at 4AM before the kids and write for an hour, etc). Then write, write more. Read, read more. Have fun. Be true to yourself and your passions and the elusive thing called your voice will naturally emerge.

  3. I agree 100% with Andrew and Ellison. New authors can drive themselves crazy searching for “their voice” as if its a buried treasure. What they often fail to understand is voice is never stationary. It changes and evolves from book to book, story to story, and character to character. The one place it should stay consistent is within the author’s emerging brand.

    What Ellison said about staying true to yourself as a writer is spot-on. Giving your readers believable characters begins with taking a little piece of yourself and implanting it into your character. A believable character will take the author’s “voice” and make the reader forget there’s an author behind the words. That’s when, as the author, you know you found your voice and the reader knows they’ve found a character to spend a small amount of emotional energy on. Whether they love or loathe the character, the character ignites emotion, channeling the voice of the author.

  4. When I was starting off as a writer the concept that confused me most was the idea of finding my own voice. It was as if it it would one day magically appear as a gift if I sat at the desk long enough or even worse maybe it was already supposed to be there naturally and the fact I didn’t know if I had one meant I couldn’t possibly be a ‘real’ writer.

    Now, years later, finding ‘my’ voice is not something I really think about as it isn’t a goal of mine to have an overarching style consistent across my career. Everyone has their own quirks in writing, often things that they are totally unaware of until it’s pointed out during the editing process, whether it be length of sentences, favourite words, rhythm of the language, but in general I have found these to be often related to a project rather than something consistent across all my writing. That is the project should dictate the style. A writer should find the correct voice and form to tell a particular story.

    Sometimes when I think about voice, what I am actually thinking about is the sound of my work being read aloud – the music of the prose. I love reading novels where you can hear the book in your head rather than just see the words on the page. Like Ellison, I began my writing career with short stories and I still like to write one or two a year precisely because they are short enough to allow me to experiment with very different styles and sounds. It is a very enjoyable exercise because it proves to me that nothing is set in stone. It’s part of the promise of the new that makes being a writer such a fascinating job.

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