Finding Your Original Voice

As a new writer, how do you know what your original voice is? And once you get it, will it stay consistent, or will your voice break and develop into something else?

In some of the scripts I read, they come across as an imitation of someone else’s voice. This is not to say that the writing is inefficient but they’re generally copying a style from elsewhere. This is a conundrum of sorts as well-executed style in a professional script is to be admired and possibly emulated, but not to the point where it comes across as ‘samey’ in your own script.

Slick style and description is all very well, but that makes up only a part of your voice. Tone, dialogue, characterisation, and how you ultimately craft and deliver your story are the other vital vocal components (also, what your stories are about, conceptually and thematically; introverted sci-fi dramas for example or fun and gory horror flicks, something that says YOU as a writer).

With this in mind, it will probably come as no surprise that it takes time to develop your voice. For the first few scripts or so, you’re basically following your own instincts combined with a general imitation of what you’ve experienced in your own script reading downtime/education. But when you become more experienced and confident, you start developing your own style and delivery, and will probably have trademark tells. Hopefully, these will be good tells although get ready for criticism of your style once you reach any kind of success or audience awareness.

Looking back at my own writing voice, I think it probably broke around 2004, when I won the BBC Tony Doyle award with my coming-of-age script, Run For Home. It was a sensitive and emotional family drama that showed off some decent writing chops. I like character-driven stories where emotion and drama resonate through a well-bound theme. A couple of commissions on BBC’s Doctors followed and I tried to practice the same kind of style. I sidestepped into kids’ TV, a different kind of voice/tone, but something I was able to achieve and enjoy.

My time as a script reader helped me to appreciate story, no matter what the genre, so jumping from drama to kids didn’t seem like a big deal to me, as long as the scripts were good. I’m also a fan of supernatural thrillers (essentially character-driven horrors), and I made my own with Origin, which divided genre audiences but managed to win Best Horror at the London Independent Film Festival in 2012.

By then, I was making a home for himself in the genre of kids/family, and I was willing to embrace it full-time. However, if you have a story you want to tell, whatever the genre, you should write it. An idea/story nagged at me which ended up as an ambitious sci-fi drama TV spec, my most mature writing to-date, which earned me a BBC writersroom winner’s place in 2013 (top 10 out of 3000, you can read the 1st ten pages here if you want).

My writing in the kids/family genre is coming along nicely, managing the fun tonal differences in action-adventure (Thunderbirds Are Go) to pre-school (Hey Duggee) and feature films (Lego Friends rewrite). I feel my voice changing and maturing, getting more skilled and confident, and yet the challenge of writing a good script remains difficult, if not MORE difficult than ever.

No matter what the genre, the craft of screenplay is still the same. It’s how you develop and deliver your voice that’s the key. As one script editor put it recently with regard to an episode of a kids’ show: ‘what’s different about this ep that makes it a Danny Stack ep?’ That’s a lovely note to get, as it’s encouraging you to use your writing voice as much as possible. That’s why they hired you in the first place. Never be afraid to be yourself, even if you don’t know what your writing voice is yet.

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