I've been preaching this for years on this blog (read voice posts) and at presentations and trainings:
We've all heard that voice matters, that it's the key to connecting with the audience, and that it's a core element in creating the emotional motivation to follow through on a call to action. So if you're not already obsessed with setting the right tone for your copy, content marketing, essay, whatever, maybe hearing it directly from a content consumer will help.
Writing For People, By People
Check out that last line of Ms. Stockman's review: "Readers will recognize them as friends".
That's exactly what we were after. We wanted young readers to feel relaxed and safe to experiment with their writing, so we wrote from the persona of a fun and trusted uncle or aunt. Luckily, these are personae we embody in real life as uncle and aunt to several kids in the target age group. But we're not always that lucky, right? Sometimes, we have to write as people we are not.
Actionable Writing Advice: Study your audience to determine what their questions, concerns and objections are before you start writing. This type of buyer persona (no demographics required!) guides you in figuring out both what they want/need to hear and in determining a complementary persona for the writer.
Voice = Trust
Or not. Get voice right, and people will trust you, find you credible, and be more likely to follow, act, etc. Get it wrong and you lose them, sometimes for good.
We chose our writer personae specifically to address the cynicism, instructional fatigue and general "gimme a break" attitude of our target reader; and the aspirational, supportive and "I just want to help my kids do better in school" attitude of the buyers of our buyer. Too teacherly and we risk turning the kids off. Too casual and we risk losing credibility with the adults doing the purchasing.
The result is a voice that matches the way we talk to the young people in our family when helping them learn or try anything new. This reviewer, who's also a teacher, noticed:
Did you catch that? "It's also written with a fun, conversational tone that treats kids like real people (important since they can smell a textbook a mile away)." The tone appeals both to tweens and teens who crave being treated like grown-ups, and to parents who want their kids treated with respect.
Actionable Writing Advice: Select a voice that your audience and customer (they're not always the same person) want to hear. The writer persona is the who; the voice is the how. Cool aunts can also be authoritarian (just ask my niece Jillian and nephew Taylor about "strict Auntie Monkey", one of my personae). Select a tone of voice that's appropriate not only for the audience, but also for the content. Authoritative, relaxed, knowledgable, energetic--these are the kinds of adjectives you want to use to describe the voice. Pro tip: Keep it to no more than 3.
Revise & Rewrite Until You Get It Right
Here's what Ms. Stockman and Mr. Rasmussen don't know: We didn't "nail" voice the first time.
We scrapped the first draft of this second edition because the voice was wrong--too formal, too fussy. It had a bad case of the "I'm Writing Now"s, and it didn't sound like Steve when he actually talks to kids (or anyone for that matter) about writing. So it was back to the drawing board with an extreme focus on sounding like Uncle Steve. Then I chimed in with my "Miss Margot says" tidbits making sure they, too, sounded like me chatting with my nieces and nephews.
That's what a commitment to voice is all about: the willingness to start over from scratch, in the face of deadlines and everything else, to get it right. Ms. Stockman's endorsement shows the rewrite was worth it. And, pardon the blatant self-promotion, but so do the sales of the sales of book, which made it to #1 in Amazon's Teen Writing category and has kept it in the Top 10 for the last two weeks.
Actionable Writing Advice. Commit to getting voice right, even if it means taking another swing or two at a passage or even the entire piece. Attention to the individual elements of voice (ideas, word choice and sentence fluency) makes writing more relatable, credible and trust-inducing.
Shameless Book Plug: Buy Be A Better Writer
Speaking of sales, I hope you'll pick up a copy of the book for the young writer(s) in your life--or for yourself (several adult reviewers are using the book and recommending it for college undergraduates). You can get Be A Better Writer on Amazon, or ask your local independent bookseller to order it for you. It's a great present for graduates (of any grade!), an easy early Christmas present, or a nice "I was thinking of you" gift. And I'll be honest, sales made before May 19 help cement the book's place on the first page of category rankings. We're also planning our summer and fall book tours, so let me know if you'd like us to consider a bookstore or school near you. Thank you!