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The Voice & Palmetto Poison

C. Hope Clark, author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series and editor of the award-winning site FundsforWriters.com, joins Writer’s Zen today as a guest blogger. Hope has tips and suggestions for writers on finding and strengthening their voice. She shares the process of finding her voice through Lowcountry Bribe, the first book in her Carolina Slade Series. The process of finding her voice didn’t happen overnight. It took time, rewriting, and many edits. With each edit her voice got stronger and clearer. C. Hope Clark’s new release, Palmetto Poison, is the ‘proof in the pudding’, proving that this author speaks with knowledge and experience.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope and I both hope that you’ve found something useful here. Leave a comment for Hope. And check out Palmetto Poison!

The Voice
By C. Hope Clark

          In my early years of fiction, my writing wandered all over the place. Chapter three might not read like chapter six, and my characters came across two-dimensional. Being a logic-ridden person, I searched for A-B-C ways to correct my style, but nowhere could I find a hard-and-fast lesson on nailing voice.

palmetto poisonLowcountry Bribe was the first in my Carolina Slade Series.  Palmetto Poison, my newest release, is now available on Amazon, and on Kindle. It will be available soon on all other book venues. Lowcountry Bribe will always hold that special place in my heart as does any first born. Through that story, I found my voice. After throwing away that story twice to start over from scratch, and after two critique groups and twenty five edits later, my voice rose to the surface in its infancy. I’ve been raising it ever since. Palmetto Poison should hopefully appear stronger, not just in the character’s growth, but in the turn of phrase and the ark carrying the reader through the story.

Voice is an obscure, ambiguous term. Those who have it understand it. Those who seek it are frustrated since they can’t quite put their finger on what they’re looking for. To me, voice didn’t make sense until I started hearing it when I read my work aloud.


When my characters appear on a page, I visualize the scene. Every house, office, road or restaurant in my books has a tangible quality for me, meaning I’ve seen some semblance of them in real life. Same goes for many of the players of my stories.

When they speak, I stop and see them in my mind’s eye, anchoring them such that I can free-write about them. I hear the words, see the body language, and get in the head of my point-of-view character to include the snark and the silliness, fear and love. Like an actress prepping for her role, I insert myself into a character’s mind and body to sense the pang of hurt feelings, or the heart-thumping anxiety of what’s next to come.  Make myself cry at loss, smile at joy, and heat up as the love interest approaches ever so close. Being up close and personal with them, getting into their heads, loosens the writing. It becomes more about getting the feelings on paper than what words are used.

Voice is quality, style, attitude, speech patterns and phrasing. It’s knowing which character is speaking without needing the tags. It’s reaction to movement, to senses, to a message.

All of us have experienced letdown when reading a sixth, or eighth or twelfth book of a well-known author who seemed to regress in his abilities. In those books, the author fell back and rode the laurels of the voice he became known for. He forgot that voice has to be constantly honed, made smarter as each new story is birthed. He has to try harder with each story, no matter how many stories he’s written. One of the many difficulties in writing a series.


  • Relax and write. Turn off the editor and free-write with permission to forget about grammar and commas. What rises to the surface when you have no rules hindering your style?

  • Do not try to copy other writers. Be well read, but don’t try to copy. When you read a wonderfully written paragraph, slow down and reread it, then say it aloud. Let it sink in. Maybe even write it down and keep it in a list of others you’ve found. Reread them periodically, reminding yourself of your aspirations.

  • Read quality writing. Noted Southern novelist Pat Conroy entrenched himself in the classics as a young man. Readers can see the results in the ornate quality of his descriptions.

  • Write in a variety of styles. Literary versus genre fiction. Light versus dark. Humorous versus noir. Positive, negative, quick, slow. You won’t know your voice’s sweet spot until you’ve missed it enough times to tell the difference.
  • Write as if speaking to a person in the room. Make it personal, as if telling the story to a friend. If you need to, speak it and record it, then paraphrase it into your writing, taking note of what makes your choice of words unique.
  • Write about something meaningful. Find an emotional moment in your past and recreate it on paper. Do writing exercises like: The sexiest moment of my life. The scariest day. My biggest phobia. My worst nightmare. The most wonderful meal I’ve ever had. What I fear most. These exercises loosen you up.
  • Write on a taboo subject. Go where you never wanted to go before, or write about an embarrassing subject, or an off-color dream you’d never share. If it doesn’t make you cringe, it isn’t quirky enough.
  • Read it aloud to others for feedback. If you stick with a critique group long enough, they’ll help guide you to what sounds most authentic for you.
  • Repeat. Voice comes from doing all the above repeatedly, because voice is partially habit. It comes after writing thousands of words that sound generic—words anyone could’ve written. Writing until you’re tired of writing often lets the real you come out. Then one day, you reread an old piece versus one you are proud of, and you see the difference.


Because voice has so much to do with the reader’s experience, it’s critical to our recognition. A writer’s voice requires every part of a writer’s toolbox: syntax, diction, punctuation, character depth, dialogue, flow. Voice must be so natural that the reader falls into the story without seeing the words. He reads the words and knows who wrote them, or realizes he’s never read this author before.

Bottom line is voice is when the author’s thoughts flow more easily than the vocabulary. It’s your fingerprint, your soul, your personality. However you define it, voice is your most promising tool in leading you to success as an author. A good voice can tell any story.

c hope clark

  • BIO – C. Hope Clark is author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series, published by Bell Bridge Books out of Memphis, TN. She is also editor of the award-winning site FundsforWriters.com, with a newsletter service that reaches 45,000 readers and writers. She lives on the banks of Lake Murray in central South Carolina, when she’s  not running off to Edisto Beach on the Carolina coast.  www.chopeclark.com / www.fundsforwriters.com


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