Knowing Your Voice (and a Writing Prompt)

I was recently asked if we (writers) can change our voice by writing in a different style.

I answered by saying, “Your voice is different from your companions’ voices. If you can hear the difference, you can write the difference.”

Certainly, you would use a different approach when writing a medical document than a prose poem. It follows that a writer might change voices frequently. I am told my voice is very strong and identifiable across genres, but that I have a “soft” voice, a “teacher”voice, a “mommy” voice and an “angry” voice, all of which I use to different ends. The way I employ those voices in and across genres is what determines my writing style, which is also subject to change. After all, I am a work in progress.

Further, ask around and you will discover that the best editors are the ones who merge their edits seamlessly within the work of their client. In other words, an editor should be invisible because s/he assumes a voice to match the writer’s.

I believe voice, in a first person narrative, is carried outside of the “out loud” words. Here is an exercise to aid you in “hearing” your own voice. To fully stretch this exercise, write it without dialogue.

Hearing Voices


You are at a table with at least two other people. Describe those people. Let them be fully embodied in your mind. If you know them, hear their voices. If you created them, give them voices. Know their interests, their desires, their hopes and hurts. Know them as you know yourself.


You and your companions have all witnessed the same event. You were at a cafe. A woman came in and shouted at the barista. See the situation. See the story.

Now, write the event from your point of view (in first person/I, me). Tell it naturally, as it occurred. As if you were saying it out loud. Hear your voice in your head as you write it. Allow yourself to be fully present on the page.


Allow each of your companions to tell the story from their point of view (also in first person). Hear their voices as you write their stories. Allow them to be fully present on the page.

To consider:

What we take from our experiences is a reflection of the person we are when we have the experiences. This means each character will see and remember an event differently, maybe even in a different order than expected.

*If you complete this exercise, blog it with a link back so I can promote your post on Twitter and Facebook. I will also link your post at the bottom of this exercise as an example. 

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

3 Discussion to this post

  1. Reblogged this on notsodeepthoughtsbyshareenmansfield and commented:
    She is my Editor. True Story. Our writing style is different. Yet, when she reads and edits my work I receive it well because she hears me. I will be doing this. Thank you! There’s my hour lunch break and writing prompt! Go Coach!

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  3. Aw, this was a very good post. Taking the time and actual effort
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