Saturday, March 28, 2015

Developing a Voice of Authority

Why is some writing believable and other writing isn’t? What makes the reader believe in some pieces and know that the material is made up in others? The answer to both questions is voice of authority, that sense the reader gets when reading that the writer really knows what he or she is talking about.

Most writers don’t even think of this when writing. A voice of authority enables the writer to create a depth to a piece of writing in non-fiction and to characters in fiction. This comes from research. To write with depth takes lots of research. The more research you do, the better you’ll be able to draw your reader into your article or story.

The effect of a good voice of authority makes the writer seem like an expert in the subject. What captures readers is a sense that the voice of the writer has authority.

So how do you become an authority on a subject without years of study? There are several ways you can become an authority on the subject. Obviously, you can prove you’re an authority if you’ve already amassed this knowledge through earning an undergraduate or graduate degree, or if you’re a professional writing about a subject in your field. But you can also rely on experts through interviews and research. Lastly, your own personal experiences might give you all the authority you need about a particular subject. After all, the cardinal rule in writing is to write what you know.

But knowing your subject well isn’t the only secret. To truly draw your reader in, you need to write using active voice. That means you’ll have to forget what you learned in school because there you learned to write in the academic style where writers hide in the shadows and have to credit their sources.

Writing in the active voice is in-your-face writing. In it the subject of your sentences controls the action through active verbs that offer precise images to the reader. Combine that with knowledge and you’ve got a winner. Using adjectives that describe scenes and people precisely also helps to improve the authority of your voice. Authority not only involves what you know but your values and your vision. In some cases, this may involve your personal beliefs.

What person you choose to use to write your story also affects your voice of authority. If you write in the third person, the reader views it as a report on what’s happening. If you write in the second person, the reader becomes personally involved—like in this blog. And if you write in the first person, whether your story is true or not, the reader believes every word because it’s coming straight from the horse’s (your) mouth.

But even if you choose to write in the third person, you can still demonstrate your authority on the subject by the details you choose to include. Using lots of details make it seem to the reader that you really know your subject, even if it’s the one and only piece you’ve written on it.

In creating convincing fictional characters, many writers research the lives of real people to gain insight into how they think and communicate about their chosen lifestyle and locality. This isn’t any different than method film actors who take the time to follow along with a real person who’s in the same occupation and lives in the same region as the character they’ll be playing on the screen. That’s what makes their performance so believable. That’s what draws viewers into a film and makes them empathize with the character.

Narrative authority signifies believability. It’s a series of deliberate yet subtle cues that you’ll use to convince the reader that what he or she sees on the page amounts to a genuine human experience. In order for this to work, the reader must accept that the you, as the article writer or storyteller, are the best person to deliver the information. Ultimately, authority convinces readers to take a leap of faith. It instills trust and makes the reader believe that the illusion of the story in fiction is as real as anything else. In non-fiction, especially historical writing, it propels the reader back to another time and place.

However, you must not use tricks and gimmicks to work authority into your writing. You’ve got to be honest with your reader and show that you truly know your subject. That’s the only way it will work.

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