You see this picture and instantly your mind leaps to Starbucks. Perhaps your next thoughts are more than just thoughts, they’re your frequent orders. Or associations. Pumpkin spice. Hope my chair is free. Laughing with a friend. God Bless caffeine. You get my point. You see one partial image and your mind goes places.
This happens with books. Without studying the cover, after reading the first few pages, I can often tell if I’ve read another book by the same author. I should partake in one of those blindfold challenges to test this claim. I’m instantly aware if I have a Jodi Picoult book in my hands or a Gillian Flynn. Author of the bestselling YA novel, SPEAK, Laurie Halse Anderson has one of the strongest, most identifiable voices in the industry.
How can I identify an author by only reading a few pages or paragraphs even? Because any author who’s spent time on their craft has cultivated their voice. Before you roll your eyes and get wigged out by a word that feels as definable as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, take a deep breath. You get more about voice than you give yourself credit for.
Take the Starbucks logo. It’s green and white. There’s a star on top of some wavy-haired mermaid’s head. Crazy recognizable. Even when it’s partially covered. It doesn’t hurt that Starbucks has slowly been planning world domination. (I laugh because when I lived in Seattle there really was a Starbucks on one corner and another directly across the street.)
Author’s leave these kind of hints—these watermarks—in their novels as well. Their words are colored by a specific manner of punctuation and language pattern. Personal experience seeps through each sentence.
I’ve heard mentoring authors coach aspiring writers by telling them to copy a respected author’s voice until they grow comfortable with their own. I’ve never been a huge fan of this advice. Why not? Because I happen to believe a significant piece of finding your voice has to do with an individual’s unique experience. I also think it’s a way to try to hop on a fast track when the real skill of mastering voice comes with time and years of putting in the work. I’d reword this advice instead to encourage writers to read copiously, to study their favorite authors and pay attention to what defines their voice, then to invest the time and energy into getting words down on the page in order to stir the embers of their own voice. There are fires waiting to be stoked.
Here’s a great article on voice I read recently.
+ the answer to who is the Starbucks Siren