Your Voice


Kim looked up from her coffee as I walked into the kitchen. "You know," she said, "the story yesterday about the body?"

I nodded and poured half a cup for myself.

"You can't always use dialog like that."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Say you're writing a how-to book."

"Like how to program in Swift or how to write a book?"

"Something like that." She paused. "You can't just have a conversation between two people in a book like that."

"You mean," I smiled, "a conversation like this?"

"Yeah," she said. Then she smiled too.

I'm not saying you need to use dialog everywhere. I'm saying that you don't need to feel bound by other people's styles. You need to find your voice and be true to it.

I used to pop in dialog here and there in my books for programmers. Mainly it was my imagined conversation with the reader when I imagined them objecting to something and I wanted to pause to acknowledge their objection.

"That's silly. You can't just start a conversation with the reader."

"Of course I can. Any book is a conversation."

I actually don't use the technique as much anymore as it got to be too cute. I used dialog bubbles and really called out the conversation. I still like the device but I try to write so that I don't back myself into a hole where I need it to get out.

Again, the point is not dialog. The point is finding your voice.

Sometimes you can see pieces of an authors voice.

Even when I'm not writing in dialog, I'll often speak to the readers in a sequence of very short paragraphs followed by more normal length. I tend not to write long dense paragraphs. I used to. I found that when I reread them during the editing process I would lose interest half way through so there was no way I was going to subject a reader to a paragraph that rambled on - like this one.

Whether I use dialog or not, I do think of my writing as a conversation with the reader. I try to talk to them as if they are sitting beside me working through the material. I talk to them in a voice that lets them know I think they are smart but they might need help with this one thing. I think they can master what it is I'm explaining. I want them to succeed.

Decide what you want your relationship to the reader to be. Are you an expert, a mentor, a colleague, or something else? There aren't right answers in the abstract. You have to decide what's right for you.

Find your voice.

"Doesn't your voice depend on what you're writing?"

"It can."

"And who you're writing for"

"Sure."

"Shouldn't we figure out what we're writing and who we're writing for?"

"That's a great idea. Let's talk about that tomorrow."