Screenwriting : How do you find your writing voice? by Beth Fox Heisinger

How do you find your writing voice?

It’s challenging when talking about voice with screenwriting. We are often told to keep “ourselves” out of it, to go down the rabbit hole of where the story takes us. With that in mind, are we talking about dialogue or the way in which characters speak? Is it simply "the way” in which one writes? Or are we talking about the authorial voice? Are we talking about artistic style? Are we talking about writer confidence? Are we talking about a writer’s point of view? Perhaps it is all these things? Anyone can learn story structure, plotting, formatting, practice by mimicry, tick those screenwriting or genre boxes, but when you read something with a unique voice it immediately stands out. So, what is this elusive thing called “voice?” How do we define it? How do we make the best of it? We all have a voice in life, but how do we get it down on paper and into our work?

C.m. Andino

I think your voice is something you don't have to find, but you might have to fight to keep. I'm preparing to teach a screenwriting course which, of course, covers all the things you mentioned, structure, plotting, formatting, but I think voice is something that can't be taught. Anytime a truly original voice breaks onto the scene there will always be those who try to imitate it, usually at the cost of their own voice. Refine your technique, but never give up the style that makes your writing yours.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Yes, many mimic at first. However, I don't believe voice is something you fight to keep, but rather you discover, you develop. Sure, some people have specificity right out of the gate, they have a distinct vision. Tarantino, Lena Dunham, Diablo Cody, Shane Black all have a distinct vision, a voice. And they are emulated and inspire many writers. Practically speaking, most of us need to learn how to use the tools of the trade first. The thing I find so perplexing about screenwriting is this lost notion that screenwriters are creators. It's our creativity that elevates our work, not the usual "paint-by-numbers" rhetoric. So how do we better tap into that? How do we embolden that side of the craft?

C.m. Andino

The stress on the "paint-by-numbers" rhetoric is what I meant when I said we have to fight to keep our voice. You're right that it has to be cultivated, but too often I've found that, in an effort to to help budding writers, creativity is stifled in favor of a more by-the-book approach. I think that we best tap into our voice when we strive to work on projects that we are truly passionate about. Nothing kills creativity quicker than the feeling of being obligated to write.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Ah ha, yes, of course, I better understand your point. :) But, still, I don't know if the "by-the-book approach" is the definite culprit for stifling voice? Perhaps the culprit is personal perception? I'm not trying to be contradictory, honestly! LOL! I don't know. It's truly hard to put a finger on it, because there's yet another element at play: talent. Right? Whether you are working on a personal passion project or perhaps one on assignment, how you yield the craft as an artist is still evident, is it not? We are not robots. Specific writers are sought-after for their voice.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Then, of course, in tandem with voice is brand. A couple of years ago, my mentor, a former V. P. of Development at United Artists, and I had this very discussion. We were talking about talented writers, developing voice, and I mentioned Diablo Cody, that she had such a distinct style and that I envied her ease with words. My mentor smiled at me and said, yes, she does, but you don't want to be Diablo Cody. This confused me. After further explanation, what she meant was twofold; first, don't copy someone else, find your own voice; and second, don't pigeonhole yourself into a stylistic corner. ...I'm still perplexed. LOL! There seems to be some wonderful, magical gray area between craft and creative voice.

Steven Michael

This post is intriguing. The "magical gray area between craft and creative voice" seems to be very individualistic. Maybe this is where talent comes in - but what exactly is talent? Can it be defined in order to be understood? My amateur opinion has two parts. One part comes from the movie Biloxi Blues where an aspiring writer in boot camp asks his intellectual friend Epstein, "I want to be a good writer, what do you suggest I read?" To which Epstein replies, "The entire third floor of the New York Public Library." I believe the second part is where it gets nebulous. Whoever leverages what is learned in style and voice from reading the masters will find their unique voice. It's parts of confidence, a point-of-view, and insanity. So what is voice, the original question? I don't really know, but those who have it didn't come by it easily.

Regina Lee

I believe there are several ways to characterize "voice." Among them: having something to say and being gifted with a singular or identifiable way of saying it. This is a rather reductive post from me. Sometimes a writer's voice can be angry. For example, angry about injustice. I'm really behind on ABC's AMERICAN CRIME, but I suspect there are some angry voices found in that show. Sometimes a writer's voice can capture a particular feeling among a particular demographic. For example, I wrote about 500 DAYS OF SUMMER in another thread, and those guys have a voice for the 20-somethings, young lovers, and people becoming "real adults." In a completely different way, MR. ROBOT has a very singular voice of a generation, tired of the one-percenters, ready to Occupy anything, ready to revolt. I'm sure I could find a better way to write this up - need to find my voice for this topic!

Regina Lee

This sounds both overly simple and true - voice is something you know when you see it. Because you've read hundreds or thousands of scripts that didn't show a particular voice, and you know it right away when one does.

Jeremy Dewayne Humphrey

You're writing "voice" becomes distinctive because you are the writing voice. Your experiences or living in this zeitgeist allow you to write stories related to this. If you are a fan of punk rock music, you may have a story and dialogue that uses references to bands like The Ramones or their contemporaries like Rancid. There is also a pacing that is different in script that are distinct to certain people. Your voice may allow you not to elaborate on your subject in the script, as the description of his or her attire says it all. I hope this helps.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Great comments! Yes, this is a very individualistic, nebulous (great word by the way, Steven!) thing. And yet, as Regina pointed out: we know it when we see it. Or perhaps when we experience it, whether we're distinguishing the voice of a writer, or the voice (perhaps theme/message?) of a particular film or series. :)

Bill Costantini

A lot has been written about a writer's "voice" and "style". Some agree that it's one and the same, and some feel there is a difference between the two. Some approach it with a utilitarian view, and some caress it like it's a mystical divinity. Reality is a construct, after all, as are people's beliefs about the subject matter of "writer's voice." I believe in "form" and "content". "Content" is what I write. "Form" is the way I write it. "Form" is where my style and voice exist as one. To take it another step further, "tone" (or "mood" or "attitude") is the manner behind (or underneath) the way that I write. So I can have a light-hearted tone in a breezy style about the joys of kindergarten, or I can have a heavy-handed tone in a somber style about the horrors of nuclear war. In one of my creative writing classes in college, we had to write in a different voice every other day, and on the alternate day, we had to read our work aloud in front of the class. My Emily Dickinson voice was...eh....never mind. Heh-heh.

Regina Lee

I do think that a series largely speaks with the "voice" of the creator or showrunner, but I didn't want to get too specific in this post. And I realize that every writer has his/her own voice. The most distinctive voices are spotlighted when "voice" is discussed. Duh. You knew that.

Cherie Grant

I found my voice two years ago and I had no idea how. I think I was reading a book that had a voice similar to mine and it triggered something in me and I knew it when it happened. It was a great feeling. It really helps direct my writing.

Dan Guardino

I thought people were just talking about the voices in my head.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Well, I don't know about caressing voice with mystical divinity, but hey, to each their own—I don't judge. Lol! As you describe it, Bill, to me, that would seem more about tone/mood/form, not your writer's voice, per se. Perhaps your voice is the way in which you go about creating that mood or tone or form—your signature, if you will. That "thing" that no matter the story or subject or tone you are using for a particular work, one could tell it was you that wrote it—even your "Emily Dickinson." Lol! Anyway, perhaps that aspect of voice is more about you as an artist, rather than your underlining voice or tone/message within a particular work. :) I hope that makes some sense!

Beth Fox Heisinger

Cherie, I know exactly what you mean. I've had some great "Ah ha!" moments that have both helped and hindered me along my discoveries, forced me to rethink things. I feel much more grounded these days, and I have a better sense of my creative true north.

Steven Michael

We can recognize it if we see it is very true. So here's a mindbender: would we recognize Hemingway if one of his works was published under another name? Does the name solidify our recognition? Or can we know it's him with no name attached? It seems to me that when a passage can be blindly identified, a person has found their voice.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Side comment: I've been listening to the Scriptnotes podcast, you know, John August & Craig Mazin; they sometimes review various amateur writers who have submitted the first 3 pages of a script; they summarize each one, comment; the 3 page submissions can also be viewed on the site. Anyhoo, on one particular review they flat out said (I'm paraphrasing), "Sorry, but there's no voice here. There's nothing. It feels fake, the characters are fake, it doesn't have a soul. It's just like you ticked those boxes and expect it to be great." I thought that review was really interesting... because they usually pick apart set-up problems, concept issues, typos, etc. No soul? Ouch!

Beth Fox Heisinger

That's interesting, Steven. ...Yeah, perhaps. But with Hemingway... His work was/is so influential. Is that fair to use him as an example? I don't know... I'm not a fan of his work, so I might not recognize all his writing without label. Anyway, I think once you are familiar with any artist you become attuned to their voice, famous or not. :)

Beth Fox Heisinger

Anyone have a tip to share about how to develop your writer's voice? :)

Steven Morris

So I'm glad I came across this post. It was super intriuging, I read it twice and probably will again. Those Scriptnoes have been really helpful and I'll have to check that one out. It's a curious thing, because in conversation you don't listen for how you sound...well most of us don't. Artists spend hours, years, and sometimes decades trying to find their voice. What makes us different? I spend brain wrecking time trying to articulate a single mood, tone, feeling or phrase and all before the risk taking even starts. It's what happens when you see something bold and say "Can they do that? Are they allowed to do that?," as many of the above artist (Cody, Hemingway, Tarantino, Dickinson) have shown. As far as the post goes, I agree for the most part, to find a voice is real challenge. Though, I believe it's internal, innate, and I know exactly where it's hiding. I don't need to hear anyone else's voice to translate my own. One can mimic the work but not the creative mind. I could give you all my notes, screenplays, writings, and still only I know know what I will say, write, or create before I do it. That's provides an undeniable comfort. Thanks for thought provoking perspectives.

Regina Lee

Yes, Beth, Skype me, and I'll give you a great tip/example/exercise. Think of a topic you want to write about - not "biographical," but personal to you.

William Martell

It was between the sofa cushions. You figure out who you are, what things interest you, how you look at the world... and then how those things influence your writing in the big picture and in all of the details.

Regina Lee

Yeah, I'm not promising that you'll find your voice after 1 exercise! You'll also have whiter teeth and a better-behaved dog. (Blush.) But the exercise may give you a new angle/lens to consider when coming up with your specific take on a story!

Beth Fox Heisinger

Hey thanks, Regina. I may take you up on that. I'm definitely curious about those exercises. But my question was meant to generate discussion to help any and all writers. Would you be willing to share an exercise on this thread?

Melissa Willis

I don't know if I so much have a problem finding my voice as I do expressing it. It's like a virtual hand over my mouth. Regina, I'd be interested in any exercises you have to offer if you'd be willing to share.

Regina Lee

My example would require me to tell you about 2 of my own projects, and then I would encourage you to apply a lesson to your own work. The lesson wouldn't have great impact without my pitching you first. If we speak, you can try to type up an abridged version that you can post.

Cherie Grant

I think, possibly, if you try writing about something that is deeply personal or really makes you emotional then in that exercise you might find your voice because you are lowering your defences in communicating something that means something to you. I think I found my voice when I learnt to let go. It doesn't show up in everything I write because letting go is a struggle.

Regina Lee

Btw, I hear that S32 member Aimiende Negbenebor Sela has a real voice. She was one of the 2015 CineStory Feature Finalists, but I wasn't assigned her script to read. Maybe she has some thoughts to share?

Beth Fox Heisinger

Yeah, you said it, William. That's it in a nutshell. But is writer's voice also just one of those things that develops naturally over time, practice and experience? Does the alchemy of voice slowly unravel? Or do we need to put focused effort into developing it? I feel it is a blend of both.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Okay, Regina. Sounds great, thanks again. Just let me know your schedule via email. There's no rush. At your leisure, of course. :)

Regina Lee

Melissa Willis - the problem you describe seems like an execution or craft-based question. Try to break down what you're having trouble expressing?

Elaine Haygood

Interesting, Beth, that you mention "lost notion". I remember while at the AFI feeling that we, the Writers were the least thought of. The joke around the school was, "I really want to direct, but I just happen to have this screenplay, handy". It suggested that anyone could write a decent script and that Writers were basically a dime a dozen, so to speak. I guess one of the reasons I've resisted using software like Final Draft is that I remember when similar software was first being introduced. They actually did a presentation at the school about it and the Developer joked about how in about a few years, their software would make Writers obsolete. Maybe it's just my age catching up with me, but, there are a ton of strictures put on Writers these days. One the one hand, it feels like we're being asked to pull rabbits out of our hats without the benefit of actually having a hat. On the other hand, the restrictions can also be seen as a challenge to see if we can deliver a good script in spite of the limitations being placed on us.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Yes, Steven M., Cherie, and Melissa, there is a veil sometimes between us and our work. We all understand the concept of individual voice, but putting a finger on it, expressing it, or utilizing it, or getting it on the page can be challenging. Perhaps it can be chalked up to clumsy beginnings? Perhaps we need to take on a personal project to suss out voice for ourselves. Perhaps it's learning how to better organize ideas and understand why we wish to write about them? Then apply that knowledge as we go. Of course the process to develop voice is different for each writer...

Tao Ryan Moua

This maybe vague, but to me "voice" is a writer's perspective (attitude and point of view)/his or her unique way of seeing things and the world like a character's point of view and attitude on a certain subject matter in the story and world he/she lives in. For example, if you're writing a political thriller, you're either pro, con or neutral on the subject.

Kenneth W. Wood

Guess what? As each of you have been contributing your posts, you have been using your own individual voices all along. I hear your personalities coming through and not a one of them sounds like another.

Tao Ryan Moua

In a nutshell, " it is what is unique about you as a writer." You mentioned Diablo Cody - she's unique in the way she describes things: funny, quirks, goofiness etc. Spike Jonze is another writer with a unique voice. Read "Her".

Melissa Willis

@Beth - Interesting that you should say that because the story I want to tell IS personal and you're the third person in the last hour to "tell" me to do it (including one of my personal heroes, Norah Ephron via her upcoming HBO documentary). If that isn't a sign, I don't know what is. I just have to hurdle the fear to actually tell it. It's not a conscious fear - I FEEL fearless. But I know it's there, annoying the hell out of me. @Kenneth - Thank you. :)

Beth Fox Heisinger

Melissa, my first screenplay was very personal to me. :) Norah Ephron? How wonderful! Well, the signs are there. I say go for it!

Cherie Grant

Beth, I agree that voice is something both practiced, but also something that just develops as you learn more about yourself while writing.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Kenneth, Haha! How true! However, the issue when executing a story and having to deal with the confines/expectations of screenwriting that individual voice can often become muffled. :) And Tao, that's not vague. Perspective has everything to do with voice. :)

Bill Costantini

Beth - I was referring to how I define my voice/style as a writer, and nobody else. And yes, the way I go about constructing tone/mood/attitude would definitely be a part of my voice/style as a writer (and nobody else.) A couple other thoughts to ponder....I think that screenwriters have it a lot harder than novelists in creating a unique signature style. Novelists get to expound in their writings, in both elaborate narrations and dialogues. Screenwriters are forced to make it concise and evocative. Screenwriters who adapt a novel into a screenplay have to condense a 300-page novel that takes 5-10 hours to read into a screenplay that takes two hours to read. Novelists have better opportunites, in my eyes, to create a more unique writing style than a screenwriter does, since they have a lot more liberty, and a lot more latitude. Maybe that's why so many industry insiders jump when they discover a writer with a "fresh voice." Is that because the content is fresh, like a new spin on an old concept, or because their style is fresh? Or both? Maybe that's how some people define "voice." Also, we've all read from industry insiders here and elsewhere about how scripts that they've written or been associated with go through re-writes at the hands of other writers - like "script doctors" who specialize in punching up the comedy, or the horror, or the action...or who squeeze the conflict harder....or who specialize in creating dialogue that is more evocative. Imagine how hard it is, then, for some movies to have a signature style of one writer....when many other writers have contributed to the final product. Are all of those voices, then, that "compatible" in an industry-standard sense? And does that make them professionally generic, or truly unique, or "it depends" on a story-by-story basis? For the writers whose works don't get re-written by others, and whose styles are truly unique...I'd say they are sitting on the top of the screenwriting mountain.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Ah, okay Bill. I see. Yes, that makes perfect sense. :) Yes, I agree, novelists have much more freedom. ...Sometimes, that's not always a good thing. Lol! Also, great point about the many hands that touch and affect any given project. Again, totally agree. I'm always interested in films/series in which the writer is also the producer and/or director, or a major decision maker in the final product. I'm always excited to get my hands on an earlier draft, not the final shooting script. I saw an earlier draft of "The Kids Are All Right" and I liked it so much better than the film.

Phillip "The Genuine Article" Hardy

@Beth In your opening paragraph you ask this question: “Is it simply "the way” in which one writes? Or are we talking about the authorial voice? Are we talking about artistic style? Are we talking about writer confidence? Are we talking about a writer’s point of view? Perhaps it is all these things?” It is all those things. But there are also other ingredients that contribute to your writing voice. 1. It’s your environment 2. It’s your education 3. It’s your cultural and religious background or lack of one 4. It’s all the books and films that have influenced you 5. It’s your life’s experience and things you’ve seen 6. It’s your memories 7. It’s your logical mind 8. It’s your emotional mind It’s summoning up those ingredients and then putting your stamp on them. It’s picturing the kind of movie you want to write in your mind and then committing it to the page.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Great list, Phillip. Yup, those things certainly contribute to voice. :)

Cherie Grant

So basically it's your personality.

Phillip "The Genuine Article" Hardy

Cherie: My voice definitely has my personality. My characters are mini Phil's running around wreaking havoc. Beth: Gold star topic, good exercise to articulate and the logline for our writing personality.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Well, here's a definition I found: "The writer's voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of their common usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works)." It seems a bit too utilitarian. It's certainly not inspiring, but it is concise. Perhaps more fitting for novelists. Lol!

Jorge J Prieto

First of all, great topic, my dear BETH. I think it all starts by LISTENING.The art of developing characters starts with oneself, and the experience of presence - of making our characters, including ourselves, present to one another Yes, it is primarily an aural experience. Freeing your characters so that they can do the work they were meant to do is less about"I see" and more about "I hear." I also strongly agree with, C.m Andino, that we must work on projects, stories that we are passionate about. We need to be in love with something (story, subject matter ECT.) then find characters whose problems, (I would add) struggles, dreams, goals, dramatize that passion. Because. and I didn't make this up, but I practice it, when your characters care and you care, your audience has a chance of caring. Last, I'll share a quote, which I shared recently, but many of you, simply don't care or where simply not interested or just too busy to read it, anyway is here again because it's exactly what you, BETH brought up: HOW to Find Your VOICE (and why it's so essential) by Hugh Howey. "What the hell is your voice? It's how you write when you aren't aware you're writing. Everything else you do is mimicry. Self -awareness is the enemy of VOICE. Your voice will improve as study your own writing to see what works and what doesn't..." I don't know if this makes any sense to any of you, but that doesn't concern me, because after completing seven screenplays (SPEC of course, I don't claim to be a pro) it makes perfect sense to me as I look back on the seven. Again, BETH, thanks, we, I'm very lucky to know of you have at Stage 32 and all that you contribute to this community.

Jorge J Prieto

Philip: Right on, brother! Yes, yes,yes..

Zlatan Mustafica

For me, as I write, my "voice" comes from within. I have studied people for years, I have experiences that are out of this world, I have been through hell and back several times over etc. etc... This picture I´m painting here, somewhat subjective as it may be, creates my own "voice" on its own, I think. I always leave a small part of me in every of my scripts. I think, that is something that keeps my characters and plots and themes of my scripts genuine and real and relatable. Something that can resonate with great many people around the world no matter the genre or levels of fiction or settings or anything that we as screenwriters battle on a daily basis. I think one´s "voice" can be the smallest thing, really. I think we all have one already. Now do others appreciate that "voice"? Do other people like that particular "voice"? Think about how superficial human beings are within the core of their existence... Your voice matters and you have it, mine as well, everyone´s really. I believe it is not a question of if a certain writer has developed his or her own "voice". The question is who is willing to ACTUALLY see it, hear it and understand it as it is and not trying to make it into a voice of another.

Jody Ellis

I think that our voice comes when we learn to be somewhat intuitive in our writing. And when you learn what "clicks" with you as a writer.

Guillermo Ramon

Even though it is easy to assume that artistic stylistic elements are arbitrary or plainly subjective, they are not. Color has a temperature that can be measure as units of light called kelvin degrees. The climax is the point in which all significant forces in the story merge together. These forces clash or integrate forming a resultant force that transforms the protagonist and antagonist characters. In the same token, the writer's voice is formed by measurable components. The syntax, diction, length of sentences, use of dependent clauses, one liners, swearing words, stupid or intelligent statements, etc. create a voice. I am more concerned with my characters having a voice than with my own. After all, I am having the adventure my characters are going through. Once I am writing, everything is about them. The structure and everything else comes through in rewrites. Only once did I write a play straight through, in less than two hours, and it was produce without any rewrites.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Again, great comments! Thank you so much. :) Yes, I think we all understand the concept of voice as it relates to each and every one of us in life, our personalities, our interests, our perceptions, our talents, the way in which it permeates everything we do or express. But the question again is: How do we develop our writing voice? Or perhaps the better question is: How do we better hone our voice, utilize it and translate it onto the page and through story? We often hear, "I'm looking for a distinct voice," "This writer is so unique." And we all know a unique voice when we see it, read it or experience it — we recognize the elusive "it." So when I consider the use of voice, I think it's taking the subconscious and bringing it forward in a calculating and specific way. Perhaps it is better identifying our interests, or realizing some inner-conflict that we wish to resolve that shows up in the stories we gravitate towards or the characters we create over and over. I think better honing voice is, as Jody mentioned, becoming intuitive in our writing; taking that intuition and being able to execute it in a creative way. I do think that takes a lot of work and time to harness. Voice to me translates to freedom; giving yourself creative freedom to write uniquely. And freedom is something not quite mentioned in the world of screenwriting—at least that I can see or sense in the many posts and discussions here at Stage 32. Screenwriting is a craft with expectations, structure, and purpose. I think a lot of writers consider those elements to be confining rather than instrumental—hindering themselves. Therefore, freedom then further translates to confidence. I previously mentioned a script review done by John August and Craig Mazin in which they immediately recognized the script submission lacked voice. For me, that also meant the writer lacked confidence.

Zlatan Mustafica

Sometimes, you just have to be brave enough and go with that gut feeling you have. That´s a voice in itself, in a weird way. When "those guys" who say things like "I´m looking for a distinct voice" or "This writer is so unique", as you mentioned, Beth, is just something they say in different interviews for the sake of saying something that is illusive (therefore intelligent, deep and incredibly profound) in order to hide the fact that each and every one of them know what they want and /or are looking for yet they will never disclose those details but they will always speak of "special writers with an IT factor" in that illusive and unclear sense. Ultimately it´s all about the story, the characters. We as writers just have to get damn lucky sometimes. One of these days you are going to be declared a genius by "those guys", Beth :)

Bill Costantini

Recognizing my weaknesses and working to improve them have made me a better writer and have thus better developed my voice. I think everyone pretty much recognizes that the more they write, the better they become - or at least they should become better. How many times have we read in these forum posts "when I look back at my first few scripts...I realize how bad I was.." Everything is weak in the beginning stages of writing, and especially voice - if it's even there at all. So hopefully, people recognize their weaknesses, and become better as they strengthen their weak areas by not only writing more, but by writing smarter. At some point, I think writing at a higher and more mature level becomes more "automatic," and voice begins to emerge and becomes more apparent. Like any endeavor (at least, thereotically), repetitive actions increases cognitive abilities. The more one does something, the better one is supposed to get at it. I think the same holds true for developing the writer's voice - as long as one is writing at a higher level of awareness, and skills are increasing in all areas as they mature as a writer. There are a lot of creative writing exercises one can perform to increase voice and style. Most of them take people out of their comfort zones. You can google "creative writing exercises", and find many of them. Here is a good article on how some successful writers define the writer's voice, which includes links to other articles and exercises. http://grammar.about.com/od/tz/g/voicerhetoricalterm.htm

Bo. R. R. Tolkien

Shakespeare. For me it's Shakespeare. I recite my favorite solilooquys in the most tactful and tasteful way possible, it fills me with a feeling and an appetite for suspenseful drama, it puts me in a punctual ambiance where wonderful words, I know not of, issue from the loins of the ethers and onto the screen, my fingers tingling with fervent ferocity. My eyes cast with a mist that only clears when the writing spirit leaves me. I bathe in the delectation of diabolical diction. I amuse myself to no end with this rousing reverie, conjuring characters that lack virtue but are adamant with ambition. To fail is not on their agenda, to fight, and to fight furiously. They march into victory knowing that death is just an excuse for cowards. My voice comes from my fury; from the depths of Hades itself. Taste my fury.

Guillermo Ramon

To be or not to be? Who asked that question? I really don't find it so noble to suffer Through your slings and arrows in another direction, For I don't wanna take arms, so don't give me no trouble. Well, I tried to remember it, but every time I think of Shakespeare I get stage fright.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Yes, perhaps the best approach to further develop one's voice is simply to write, and then write some more. Keep practicing. Keep working hard. Of course within that mantra we must also challenge and push ourselves to reach further, to grow, to tap into that secret ingredient: ourselves. What was it that Einstein said? Something like... "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." With that, thanks Bill, for including the article link. Some great stuff there. The various points distinguishing different aspects/considerations about voice: crafting voice, grammatical voice verses writing voice, voice verses style, being able to listen, being able to listen to the verbal music of language. Interesting. Also the following paragraph I found very interesting because I both agree and disagree with it. It points out an irony to our whole discussion: "The critical fact to remember is that the writer's voice is artificial. It's an act of artifice, crafted by the professional to achieve a specific effect in a work of the imagination. It's not the "real" writer's voice and if you try to find your own, you'll drive yourself crazy. Because "you" don't really exist. I don't either, no matter how convincingly anybody tells us that we do or how much we choose to believe it. The writer's voice... arises from the material itself and acts in service to that material." Any thoughts about that? While I agree, the writer's voice is "artificial," its purpose described in this paragraph, however I also feel the writer's voice is authentic. Huh? I know, right? I feel they are in service to each other: the material and the writer. I'm sorry, but as the creator of any given work, your voice IS "real" and vital to it.

Theresa Drew

I read somewhere that your voice is every little choice you make when you're writing. It's the one thing that can't be taught because essentially, it's you. I've found then, that the best way to find your voice is to just do exactly what you want and not try to second guess or make choices based on what you think someone wants or expects.

Jorge J Prieto

Good point, Theresa, makes. As writers we must never censor or second guess ourselves. We must not be politically correct or be afraid to shine a light on social issues, more importantly on human issues. I've realized that the more I write, the more bold I've become in tackling difficult, sensitive, even controversial stories and subject matters. It's not my job to be the critic of my subject matters, that's what the critics and the audience are there for. What I do know for sure as painful as it has been to write many of the disturbing scenes in my stories have been, they give my screenplays the necessary realism which is needed to make my message/theme as strong as possible. No regrets. My dear BETH, thanks once again for making us all think and drill deeper into what kind of writer each one of us is or aspires to become. You are a true leader and a great moderator to this community.

Guillermo Ramon

Jim Jackson, thanks for asking. The festival is in April. I will attend and then, write about it. As for whoever said that the writer's voice is artificial, the answer is "ABSOLUTELY NOT' The writer's voice is your expression on paper. In the verbal world, we have many modes of expression. Some of us are erudite when we address academic, artistic, literary, and scientific audiences. However, we speak plainly when we talk to the car wash guy, the janitor, or a person we assume to be uneducated. we speak business-like to the banker and our accountant. The language we use with each of these groups is a different voice we use verbally. The voice we employ in our scripts is as real, and as much our real voice, it is just written. Voices are contextual. They apply where they belong.

Bill Costantini

Beth - I think in this conversation, being "authentic" is serving the story with the proper style and tone. I don't think that conflicts with the belief of a "writer's voice" being a construct (artifice). Maybe the word "artificial" makes you think "fake/phony/not real." Going back to my original post....Style + Tone + Content. Style and tone need to be consistent with the story type. Maybe that's why so many producers complain about the lack of "voice" in a story: because so many writers really lack the ability to create something with a high degree of writing style (command of language, syntax, grammar, diction, etc.); a high degree of tone (consistent with subject matter); and a high degree of content. And maybe that's also why so many writers think their story is so great, until told otherwise by a qualified consultant or qualified producer: because they are lacking in one or more of those areas and don't even know it.

Bill Costantini

And I appreciate that you started this thread, because it has made me think even more about the style, tone and content of my current story. Thanks, Beth!

Guillermo Ramon

In fact, the level of subjectivity in regards to the appreciation of what we do is far higher than I would have imagined until I started submitting my work. A voice that feels authentic, strong, and unique to some, may feel odd, pretentious, and even fake to others.

Linda Perkins

Wow, great hypotheses. As a writer, I believe we're giving 'voice' to our imagination, passion or opinion.

Phillip "The Genuine Article" Hardy

I like Mister Costantini's idea about practicing with different voices. Not every day or anything; but next time I sit down to write, I'm going to try to use my new friend Marion Ette's voice. I've attached his picture. He's a bit creepy but I think he'll contribute a lot.

Beth Fox Heisinger

You're welcome, Bill. That's great to hear! And thank you! Wow, thanks to everyone! Thanks for contributing to this thread. It's been incredibly helpful and inspiring to me as well!

Joe Fiserano

Simply put, it's all of those combined. Think the voice as a fingerprint. You could mimic it to a certain extend, but it wouldn't be an identical copy. An author's voice is distinct in many ways such as: the words you use, the way you use them, the way you tell your story, the construction of your dialogues, etc. You and I can tell the exact same story, but the way we tell won't be the same. You may tell it in a funnier way than me, where people enjoy listening it from you rather than me. That, is the unique voice. You open any Tarantino movie and you could easily tell that he wrote the dialogue, he directed it. Because he has a distinctive unique voice. It takes a lot of practice, hit or miss to find yours, but once you find it people will be able to identify you and if they like your style, you will be favored among other writers. And to do that, a person has to write from within without trying to imitate others. Because the less you do it, the faster you can find your own voice.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Oh, Bill, getting back to that paragraph... Yes, to me, the way the word "artificial" was used, it meant, or rather it pointed out that what we are doing is indeed creating a "product." Therefore we are not writing from our true "selves," per se, but that we are creating something outside ourselves with the pure intention of artifice, to "achieve a specific effect in a work of the imagination"—which is absolutely true. But, the writer went on to say, therefore it is not our "real" voice, it is an act of artifice—which means a fake, a clever trick or device. That "we" don't exist (in the writing). That "the writer's voice arises from the material itself and acts in service to that material." ...In my opinion, that pushes it a little too far.

Bill Costantini

Beth - I absolutely hear you. It's a philosophical argument that artists have had for many years, and that will probably continue to go on for many more years.

Beth Fox Heisinger

So true, Bill! Around and around we go. Plus, "writer's voice" has different meaning, and is different, for each and every one of us. It is much to ponder indeed! Lol! :)

Guillermo Ramon

The interesting thing is that our voices as script writers are just a small part of the equation. It is fascinating how our script becomes its own monster after other people take it. Watching my plays being acted by different people is fascinating. The same play is so different from cast to cast. I just love how my own plays surprise me every time. The funny thing is that When I write a play, it is my play, with my voice in it. It is the director's play, with her voice in it. Yet, it is also the cast's play, with their voices in it. And all of those voices make it become its own entity. This applies to every play and every movie.

Phillip "The Genuine Article" Hardy

Beth: Very insightful. This topic was very well thought out and you never fail to impress me.

Sean Donovan

Pitching series is supposed to be a no-no, ? , hard sell I suppose, also most scripts will never see the light of day - fact - so people in the game advise, write your best original no bars story/movie, from there you may get a hack job as part of a series team of in-house writers, sorry to be blunt, but its competitive with a capital Razor.

Sean Donovan

That monster is your voice.

Guillermo Ramon

Sean, just because most screenplays never see the light, we can write plays. I do and enjoy watching them.

Sean Donovan

I never said don't write, just probably never see on screen, we all love to write and dream, its the see it on screen bit that very tricky, no offence meant.

Guillermo Ramon

Sean, I don't mean that you thought we shouldn't write. I just want to encourage people to write for the stage. It is very rewarding.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Aw, shucks, Phillip. Much appreciated. I do aim to please! I always appreciate your insights as well. :)

Sean Donovan

Sorry G, doh, yeh, your right, writing is right.

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

IMHO.... YOU are the VOICE. Only you can write a story in your own particular style... tone... pov... if you and I were assigned the same story... i.e. boy meets girl... it's your voice that will be unique in content. Your 'voice' is from your perspective. We all do have our own voice. As someone mentioned.... it's the individual voice throughout this whole thread. Thank you Beth. Great conversation here which includes our own 'voice. I don't struggle with voice... only because it's the only one I have. Mine.

Bill Costantini

I read a great article around 20 years ago in Creative Screenwriting in which Quention Tarantino talks about how he writes. Creative Screenwriting consistently presents very insightful articles where great writers talk about their craft. You should check it out when you get a chance.

Mark Proulx

I can't find the "voice" of the characters about which I write until I fully flesh them out, make them 3D and real, and put myself in their shoes so I can know what they are thinking. Then I need to find someone (an actor, a person I know) and think about how they would express themselves, how they would stand, how they would talk. This is why you need a fully realized character so you can find their voice. As far as a writing "voice" I tend to make sure I'm not the least bit involved in the story. My screenplays and novels are fast paced, they are "page turners" such that the theater of your mind takes over the reading and you see the characters come alive. If at any time my reader can tell I've inserted myself in any way, I choose to rewrite myself out. My stories MUST be my character's own, not mine. Hope this helps.

Bill Costantini

Victor - www.creativescreenwriting.com Seeing how much you love social media....they are also on Twitter and Facebook. Heh-heh.

Bill Costantini

Mark - That's a great way to make your characters unique and original, no doubt. Your thoughts about "voice" illustrate how people have different views about that subject. I consider "voice" more like a writer's "style". I'd imagine in your writing, you do have a certain "style", though.

Guillermo Ramon

I am the opposite, Mark. I have to have characters that I like to start the story. I come up with the situation, and then I test my characters. I even have conversations with them some times. Often, my plot is not final until several drafts later, but the characters are there before anything else.

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

@Victor.... just got the CS latest in my inbox a few minutes ago. Lots of current inspiring articles for everyone. Here you go... enjoy. https://col130.mail.live.com/?tid=cmcPUnHyPt5RGcLQAjfeQVJA2&fid=flinbox You may have to copy & paste.

Brian Shell

One of the ways I do it is via ellipses... to put appropriate pauses where I want an intentional breather applied. Mitch Albom does it in his newspaper columns here in Detroit.

Mark Proulx

Guillermo....if you aren't talk to or thinking for your characters you're story will fall flat, I guarantee it! I like having out loud conversations with my characters, too. Helps me discover who they really are down deep and makes for REALY interesting details that stand out in the readers mind. And Brian...I love ellipses.

Jorge J Prieto

Speaking of Tarantino, he test his characters dialogue by gathering friends and have them read or play out the scenes. I know he did that with Dhjango, according to him. The final vocal voices comes from the actors who ultimately get cast, than is all out of the writers control unless you have the luxury of directing.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Let's return to the thread topic please. Thanks. ;)

Beth Fox Heisinger

Okay, so back to the subject of "writer's voice." I just had a wonderful conversation with Regina—thanks again, Regina!—and we talked about different aspects, or perhaps different considerations about voice. Which got my wheels spinning again as I ponder this wonderful, nebulous subject. When I started this thread I was coming at it from the angle of "artist;" what is it about "you" that brings a uniqueness to the craft, how to develop it and translate it onto the page. "Voice" as your perspective, your creative intuition that presents itself through the style of your writing. As Regina and I spoke, she talked about "voice" having two different "labels" or perhaps applications: 1.) Your "writer's voice" as previously described and discussed throughout this thread; and 2.) "Voice" as an industry term given to a specific work. For example: that particular script was her voice script/film; it showcased the specific vision/voice of that writer/creator/director in a singular or identifiable way. Also, the voice of a piece in and of itself. For example: the film or series "spoke" about injustice or anger. ...I'm sure Regina can better clarify! :) We also talked about an exercise to help you consider what you (your voice) can bring to a story, whatever it may be. The exercise: Infuse something personal—not biographical!—into a story. Add an element, a direction, an insight. That personal infusion could create a new twist or bring more depth to a story or character. :) Regina, please add or correct me if I've misrepresented any of your thoughts or our discussion as I'm paraphrasing and keeping this short. Lol!

Beth Fox Heisinger

"Biographical" means a true event. "Personal" can mean an interest, an insight, an understanding, an experience...

Jorge J Prieto

BETH: Thanks for the clarification. I totally get it. I believe, and I've said this before, every single character I create is a little piece of me. This is why, in many instances, I find that, although not hard, writing is a painful process. As oppose to acting (stage acting) which is physically/mentally draining and a bit less emotionally draining. Maybe I'm alone on this one, but that's fine by me.

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

@ Regina... I've been around for a while... just want to say... I've read your comments over the last few months... on various posts... you are amazing and I really enjoy your answers to many questions that a lot of members have asked... You are a fantastic addition to our membership. Thank you for giving us your time. Truly great with your generosity and experience. Thank you.

Steven Harris Anzelowitz

I find my voice thru Woody, Mel and Neil. I like to do funny. And those are some good "Voices" to listen to for a writing style that will work.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Another great example of voice, both as "writer's voice" and a work that would be labeled with the industry term "voice," is Amy Schumer's TRAINWRECK. That is her "voice script" as it is identifiable in a singular way and clearly is coming from her perspective as the writer, especially as her first film and as a comedian. It isn't biographical, but it is personal. She borrowed some of her life experiences, feelings, insights, observations, etc, and created her story/character. :)

Bill Costantini

Beth - I saw her perform stand-up over ten years ago, and her style and tone were the same then as they are now. She certainly is a comedic genius with a unique voice.

Regina Lee

Hi Beth and Sylvia - Beth, I really don't know how to concisely summarize the "voice exercise" we talked about. Sylvia - didn't we "meet"? Didn't you take my Stage 32 class? In any case, thank you for your very kind comments. I really struggle when I write responses in the Lounge because, as you know, responses can be misinterpreted. They can do more harm than good. They can also make me look uncaring, rude, or uninformed. So I openly admit, I really struggle, almost every single time I post.

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

You're very welcome Regina... oh no, I wasn't aware you taught a class. I'll check it out though.

Regina Lee

My mistake, Sylvia. I just looked at my class roster, and I was confusing with a woman with initials SW. Thanks again. I may teach a new single-session webinar for S32, but we're still considering topics.

Beth Fox Heisinger

...Yeah, you're right, Regina, it is hard to summarize the "voice exercise" we talked about... Perhaps it's a great exercise for conceptual exploration. Flex those creative muscles. See how "your voice" or perspective can add to any given conceit or genre or type of story. You may not sit down and actually write a new version of something, but perhaps by infusing something personal, an insight/understanding/idea/interest, you can explore how your voice can affect or add some new layer. Or develop a new twist. The example we talked about was the typical bank robbery movie. We talked about the Stage 32 member a while back who posted about his bank heist script and that he later added a new element, the reason for the robbery—the protagonist needed money for a sex change operation. And just like that, the typical bank robbery story became more interesting, unique. :)

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

Sounds like Dog Day Afternoon. LOL

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

Regina... oh thanks, for a minute there, I thought I registered and then didn't show up. What class did you teach?

Regina Lee

Yes, Beth and Sylvia, when Beth and I spoke, we were talking about Dog Day Afternoon and how it stood out among other bank robbery projects.

Regina Lee

Sylvia, I taught a "How to Hook Your Reader" class at the suggestion of former S32 Education Director Shannon Stegall. My class page: https://www.stage32.com/classes/How-To-Hook-Your-Reader-In-Only-5-Pages

Beth Fox Heisinger

...Yeah, true, Sylvia, but in Dog Day Afternoon it wasn't the person who wanted the sex change who robbed the bank. It was the husband. And that element was only revealed much later in the story. (It's been a while since I've seen that film!) Anyhoo, it's just meant as an example.

Regina Lee

My mistake. I haven't seen it in years. I'm sure I misspoke.

Bill Costantini

Dog Day Afternoon, though, is a great example of a masterful writer whose style and tone were embodied in everything he wrote. Frank Pierson (Dog Day Afternoon, Cool Hand Luke, etc.) was a great writer.

Beth Fox Heisinger

No no! My memory is a little fuzzy on older films that I haven't seen in years too. But there was a Stage 32 member with a different take that we also talked about. Anyway, it was a great conversation. Thanks again, Regina. I think anything that gets one to think a little differently or explore possibilities is fantastic. :)

Regina Lee

I was talking about the S32 member whose 2015 CineStory finalist script was considered a voice piece.

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

Well you were successful, Beth ... you certainly got me thinking about one of my scripts... which has been done before many times...(kidnapped) I need a new slant ... familiar but different. I'm definitely thinking / exploring unique possibilities. Thank you.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Ah, yes. Got it. :)

Beth Fox Heisinger

That's great to hear, Sylvia. Can't wait to hear about your script. :)

Regina Lee

Beth, if you have time, I think it would be educational for you to talk about your impressions of why 500 DAYS OF SUMMER is a clear and attractive voice piece, based only on reading 5 pages (or based on reading the whole thing).

Beth Fox Heisinger

Oh, and Regina's class, "How to Hook Your Reader In Only 5 Pages" is great! Very insightful! Helpful. Knowledgeable. Really gets you better thinking about the incredible importance of those first pages and how they need to function. I highly recommend her class. :)

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

I have 500 DAYS OF SUMMER in my arsenal if anyone would like to read it. Regina I will go back and reread the 1st 5 pages later on today.

Regina Lee

Sylvia - I just clicked on your photo, and now I know how we "met." Didn't Shannon recommend that you message me last year for advice when you got an option offer? We messaged about option advice, right? It wasn't my class. It was the option question.

Regina Lee

Sylvia, I believe you had 2 different producers who wanted to option your script and you wanted to know how to handle competitive interest. Wasn't that you?

Beth Fox Heisinger

Sure. :) This may be surprising, but I never saw the film. I've only seen clips. So, yes, 500 DAYS OF SUMMER is truly unique... talk about great first five pages! They are crystal clear in voice, uniqueness. First, you're immediately aware that this is "narrated," that this story is being told to you from a distinct, personal, singular point of view and that the narrator is very "aware" that he is speaking to an audience and sharing his thoughts and experience with us. He is telling his side of the events and what they meant to him. A point of view that easily resonates because we've all gone through heartbreak. And it really zeroes in on a specific age range and the experiences of that time in life. It also achieves this by doing something stylistically different on the page, by that, I mean the way in which it steers away from "typical" screenwriting—the first three pages each have only one sentence, the third has only one word. The writers used the space of those three pages to great, comedic effect. Then, the story jumps around and does so by using large numbers—shown graphically in the script— to mark where we are in the story, the time/events of the 500 days of his experience/relationship with Summer. What you get right away is: This is not a typical rom-com. Is it even considered as such? It seems to pull the rug out from under convention. Anyway, I suspect that despite the jumping around in time, the story is still structured in three acts. Please add more to my thoughts! :)

Beth Fox Heisinger

Oh, I have not finished reading the script yet, but I will soon. And I'll watch the film after I do. I also sense an anger in the script? A disappointment by the writer(s)? All in the first pages. As if he's upset that he fell for the false notion, or "promise" of rom-coms—of romance in general. That this story is him (them) coming to grip with reality; that life is not like the movies. Would you agree?

Regina Lee

I call it a non-linear, anti-rom com (a la anti-hero). I haven't read the script in about 10 years. But I'm sure you are right.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Okay, yes. And as far as a voice piece... looking up screenwriter, Scott Neustadter, it seems he has stayed within similar genres and types of films, but none have quite the uniqueness of 500 DAYS. :)

Beth Fox Heisinger

How about an aspiring screenwriter who robs a bank to fund her first film. Maybe? No? ...Yeah, that's probably just a voice in my head, not really the means for a voice piece. Or is it? Hmmm. LOL!

Beth Fox Heisinger

Anyhoo, thanks again everyone! I greatly appreciate all who contributed to this discussion. Great stuff! Kudos all around!

Steven Harris Anzelowitz

I like it the aspiring writer is a transgender writer from Brooklyn and the Robbery gets botched. So she /he goes outside and starts yelling Hollywood! Hollywood!! Paging Sidney Lumet.

Steven Harris Anzelowitz

Why not Wolfman? What's written on Stage 32 stays on Stage 32. This is alot like Vegas or AA. And if they do. So what. I am a writer I'll write something else. No worries. Can I get a howl Brother Victor?

Steven Harris Anzelowitz

Go Wolfman Howl!

Linda Perkins

Interesting question, Meghan. Have you considered the plot/theme as the voice? So yes, I believe its the story we decide to tell is given voice. The reception of that voice depends on the viewer(s)...similar or indifferent.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Ummm, perhaps this is becoming a bit convoluted. Lol!

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