Writing Tips For Short Stories | NiTH Judges Roundtable #2 – Cultivate A Voice

We’re returning with Part 2 of the NiTH Roundtable, where we ask some of our most prestigious* judges what they look for when choosing their winners for the NiTH Writing Contest.

*Prestige decided by who has the best hair

Writing Tips For Short Stories | NiTH Judges Roundtable Part 2


Write In A Voice / Cultivate Your Voice

A lot of authors and mentors talk about cultivating a voice that is uniquely your own, but then there is also plenty to say about the idea that a author’s voice is never really ‘unique’ but an amalgam of their influences and contexts.
In Visit From The Goon Squad Jennifer Egan stitches together a series of short stories with reoccurring characters over the course of several decades. Voice and perspective change constantly, with no two “chapters” following the same central character. Similarly, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas achieves the impossible by writing each chronological period in the style fitting that era.

So while a voice might mean a writing style that is uniquely your own, voice can also mean the appropriate tone for the characters, setting and time period you are writing in.

Even authors with a consistent voice can change depending on who they are writing for.

J K Rawlings ‘voice’ in the HP stories is pretty consistent. You can be shown a page form just about any Harry Potter novel and ‘know’ that it’s a Harry Potter story. But JK Rawlings ‘voice’ in the Casual Vacancy is different to the Harry Potter stories.

How does this relate to NiTH?

Our contests run a wide variety of writing prompts, genres and requirements. Despite this, many of the authors who compete frequently have distinctive voices, despitwriting stories for different genres. How to do this takes practice, but everyone gets there eventually.

Judge Alice has this to say on ‘Voice’.

When I think about voice I think about if the tone is distracting. When it’s not noticable, when the tone and dialogue fit the story, then it’s easier to be sucked into the story. That’ll get full marks from me.

Judge Robert meanwhile thought:

I like consistency. It can be from the author using certain motifs to describe setting or character, but it can also be in the way a character talks. Their intonation and habits. There’s nothing worse for me as a judge then when a character opens their mouth and says something that doesn’t sound like them. It’s distracting in real life and in fiction it’s no different.

What Are Some Good Examples of Voice

Some of our favourite authors at NiTH also have consistent voice. Joey To’s tongue in cheek humour and offbeat characterisations might be seen as part of his voice. Similarly Amber Fernie’s relatable dialogue makes her characters feel true to life regardless of the setting.

Further afield, George RR Martin’s incredible Song of Ice and Fire series uses multiple Points of View with differing perspectives, ages and experiences to convey an entire fantasy world rich with deep history, deception, love and war. Each character POV acts as a sort of ‘Unreliable Narrator‘ with their own voice. Despite this, the world of ASOIAF remains consistent.

So what do you guys think? Is voice a consideration when writing a story? Or do you think it just emerges naturally as part of other considerations like characters, themes and setting?

We’ll be back next week with more from Writing Tips from the NiTH Judges Roundtable. In the meantime be sure to check out the latest short story contests and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Read Part 1 of the NiTH Judges Roundtable