Expressive Writing: Using Your Personal Voice

 In Writers' Academy

Expressive writing is the form of writing that tells a writer’s personal feelings about a subject. When you describe something as a writer, the five senses ( of smell, sound, taste, sight and touch) are important aspects of expression.

Personal voice depicts an individual’s own special way of expressing him or herself.

Many of the early writers had typical modes of writing that depicted their ‘personal voice’. This personal voice was like an invisible trademark that differentiated each man’s work from the other. Shakespeare for instance, was distinct in his writings, whether prose, poetry or drama. Same for other contemporary writers like John Grisham, Sydney Sheldon, Jeffrey Archer, etc. You could easily guess it’s their work after reading a few lines if you’d read at least two of their books.

Coming home to Africa, our predecessors like Soyinka, Achebe, Ekwensi, Nwapa and even modern day Adichie, all have their distinct personal voices in their works.

Click to read: The Art of Storytelling

Why is Personal Voice important?

In our world today, it is easy for plagiarism to thrive due to easy access to works on social media and easy access to practically everything online. A personal voice, therefore, becomes imperative because it is your invisible signature on your works that stands you out. For instance, if I present a picture of a candle and ask people to describe it, I am convinced that no two people will write exactly the same thing. Some might describe it in technical terms. Others might describe it in romantic terms, yet others might describe it in spiritual terms and so on. Bottom line is, your choice of vocabulary, lexis and sentence formation are features that uniquely stand you out from the crowd!

Strategies for using personal voice:

  1. Use colourful words: Interesting words help the reader picture the thing you are describing. An example, the elephant had wrinkled grey skin. It was drinking some muddy water and had a trunk that could fill a room. This description inadvertently tells you the size of the elephant. You can equally conjure up an image of it in your mind’s eye unlike if it had just be written as follows, a large grey elephant was drinking some water and it had a huge trunk.
  2. 2. Express your own viewpoint. Everybody has a viewpoint about nearly everything. What’s yours? For instance, you and your siblings that grew up in the same home at the same time cannot possibly have the same viewpoint about your family. When a writer expresses his or her feelings in a personal history, for instance, they may write about events that took place over a period of time. To help the readers follow your sequence of events, you should use words or phrases that signal the sequence such as before, after, a few years later, when, then and now.
  3. Writing in the first person: A lot of times, personal voice is depicted when people write in the first person narrative style. Here, pronouns like I, my, me, we, our and us, greatly come into play. Personally, as a storyteller, I find that people connect better with the writer and the story when it is written in first person narrative. Chimamanda Adichie, for instance, is one contemporary writer that has successfully thrived in the first person narrative form of storytelling. From the first few pages of any of her books, you can already picture what the principal character looks like, your mind begins to race as you go from page to page, anticipating the next move, willing it to be this way or that, depending on the emotion the story evokes in you! Now, that is the beauty of personal voice!

Using Personal Voice as a tool in Motivational Writing

In our world today, people need to connect with your work emotionally before they can make the critical decision of whether to read you or not. That poem, drama script or prose you are writing, does it strike a chord? How does your story resonate with the average reader? These are questions that must take a front seat in your mind as you set about writing, no matter what the topic or genre may be. You must come across first as a human who feels, sees, understands and reacts to life’s stimuli. When people can connect with you at that level through your writing, the battle is half won. They can now set aside their bias, prejudice and doubts, then they will swallow everything you write hook line and sinker as though it were a pill. That’s when they look forward to your books, articles and practically anything you belt out because you have connected with them at the soul level.

Use of Tenses in Expressing Personal Voice

Use the present tense when you talk about something that is happening now or that occurs all the time.

Use past tense to talk about something that happened earlier or in the past.

Use the future tense to talk about something that will happen later or in the future.

In conclusion, personal voice is not only relevant in expressive writing but also in descriptive writing (storytelling) and narrations. Remember, you are as unforgettable as your personal voice!


By Grace Okpo.

Grace Okpo resides in Nigeria, West Africa.

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