by Martin Wiles
I admit it … I hear voices. But not audibly.
One author and I write twice monthly for the same devotional website. Before we knew each other well, we often commented, “I knew it was you before I read the name at the end of the devotion.” I detected her voice, and she could do the same with mine.
I could pick Max Lucado’s writing out in a crowd of writers. A lot of fragments. A ton of short sentences. And a bunch of biblical stories with modern terminology.
An editor friend once asked me to “take the ax” to a particular writer’s articles. “I can’t do it without alleviating his voice,” she said. I felt her pain. I knew the challenge.
In “How to Find and Develop Your Writing Voice,” the author says, “A writer’s voice refers to the stylistic mix of vocabulary, tone, point of view and syntax that makes words flow in a particular way” (https://blog.carlow.edu/2021/07/19/how-to-develop-your-writing-voice).
As editors, we should be a writer’s best friend. Publishers and clients do not hire us to put our voice in the manuscript. Nor do they enlist us to remove the writer’s voice. Our challenge entails making the author’s work better without removing their voice. But how?
One of my works in progress (WIP) was by a young adult who had written a devotional/memoir of her life’s journey, along with life lessons God had taught her. Her style revealed her age. The jargon was wording her generation would have understood.
As editors, we must familiarize ourselves with our client’s intended audience. This will determine how much editing we do with jargon. I’m sure my young client anticipated people her age would read her work. But others would too. Not all people in the decades beyond her would understand some of her terms. To keep her voice, I left some of the jargon, modernized other portions, and eliminated a small portion.
No editor will edit without seeing this sickness. Too many verb forms. My young client was an avid violator. We can eliminate most progressive tenses (am going) by changing them to a simple past tense (went). This tightens the writing, makes it easier to read, and does not mess with the writer’s voice. And “I went to go to the store” can simply be “I went to the store.”
Ax (Most) Adverbs
My young client loved “-ly” adverbs. I felt as if I were in the drive-through of a few popular fast-food chains. I suppose adverbs get a bad rap. On the totem pole of best words to use—specific nouns, vivid verbs, descriptive adjectives—they come in last. There is a time and a place for adverbs, but many of them—often the -ly ones—can be eliminated or replaced by vivid verbs.
God has given each of us a voice he wants the world to hear. These steps will make our clients’ work better but leave their voices.
Martin Wiles is an author, pastor, English teacher, and editor who resides in Greenwood, South Carolina. He is the administrator/assistant editor for VineWords: Devotions and More, the Managing Editor for Christian Devotions, and the Senior Editor for Inspire a Fire. He is the founder/editor of the internationally recognized devotion site, Love Lines from God (www.lovelinesfromgod.com). He also serves as a freelance editor with several publishing companies. His most recent book is Don’t Just Live … Really Live (Ambassador International). He has also been published in numerous publications.
Thank you, Martin, for sharing such a practical definition of voice—normally such a hard concept to pin down with words!