Problems to Avoid -4: Voice – Part C

by Al Kalar


Steinbeck wrote in short, simple, declarative sentences.

John Norman could fill multiple pages with one boring paragraph. Some of his sentences rambled on forever.

Steinbeck won a Pulitzer prize. Norman didn’t.

There are no clear-cut rules as to how long a sentence or paragraph should be. A sentence should cover one thought only. A paragraph should cover one subject only.

If you find yourself using semi-colons (;) instead of periods, you may have a problem.

If a paragraph starts looking a bit long, it probably is. Even if the paragraph only covers one subject, it’s not a “sin” to break it up (hopefully at a logical point). This will make it easier for the reader to mentally “breathe” while reading your work.


Tell the story as if you, or someone else, were talking. You don’t have to use the first person (“I saw this”), but keep your language “loose”. If your writing becomes very “formal” (like you learned in school), your readers may find it annoying. They won’t be able to lose themselves in your story.

The best way to find a voice is to read a lot. Step back from the story (if it’s hard to step back, then you’ve found someone with a good “voice”). Study the author’s word use. Is it unique? How does it differ from your present style? Does it sound similar to the style used by other authors who sell well?

Don’t be afraid to “steal” someone else’s voice as long as it’s not so unique that everyone will recognize your theft.

Don’t forget to be consistent once you’ve adopted a “voice”. Not just for one novel, but for all your novels. You’ll be building a “brand” that readers can depend on.


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