Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Voice - what is it?

Agents and Editors want one, and writers wonder what it is and whether they have it. If it was easy to define, there wouldn’t be dozens of books, articles and workshops trying to tell you what it is and how to get it.

Here’s my two cents’ worth!
A writer’s ‘voice’ is the individual writing style of each author. At its very basic, it can be a combination of the writer’s use of sentence construction and vocabulary. But it’s more than that. Each of us has a unique personality therefore each of us has a unique voice in writing, and that’s what makes our writing unique. You already have a voice. The trick is to let that voice come through.

Authors have ‘voices’ that are as different as musical instruments – one may be a flute, another a bassoon. Even an individual author can have several voices – you write a letter to your lawyer in a different voice from a letter to your lover (at least, I hope you do!). In the same way, your ‘voice’ in a blog like this is different from your voice in a romance novel, and your voice in a romance novel is different from your voice in a crime novel.

Would-be writers sometimes ask how they can ‘find’ their voice, or even how do they know if they’ve found it. Some beginners think they have to ‘sound’ like a writer, so they may think they have to write long sentences with flowery or 'literary' descriptions. In doing so, they’re in danger of losing their own natural ‘voice’.

I’ve also seen advice about studying other writers’ styles in order to ‘find’ your own voice, and I always cringe at that advice. A writer’s voice isn’t something that can be learned (or copied) from others. It's already there within your writing, it’s YOU. The secret is to relax and let it flow.

That’s not to say it can’t be improved, by learning about the technicalities of grammar and sentence construction, of course. It’s also said that the more you write, the stronger your voice becomes. Basically, however, your ‘voice’ is how YOU write. I like to think of it as writing from the heart, from the hidden depths of the inner ‘you’. One piece of advice I like is 'Write from the heart, edit from the head.'

In a website about writing for children (Write4kids), I found this paragraph, which I think applies to all books, not just children’s books:
The elements of a book - the plot, characters, setting, description - are all important, but alone they make up the bare bones. With a voice, a book becomes more than words on a page; it becomes a story. The writer's voice breathes life into a book and gives it a soul.


  1. I struggle with voice, I think, because I wear different 'hats'. In real life I like to be lighthearted, to play with words. In my CSA newsletters I am informing, celebrating and persuading. In soup building ordering and billing emails, I strive for personably professional clarity. None of those sound like a timetravel romance voice.
    Oh, I take that back. Clarity is a virtue I'm glad I'm perfecting in my romance voice--good Feelings-Action-Dialogue paragraph construction, minimal dialogue tags, first-next-next action description.
    I'm thinking I need someone else to describe my voice.

  2. Ana, you probably shift your 'voice' automatically between your newsletters and soup building, without thinking about it. You can do the same with your time-travel romance. Don't think about it, just do it (as they say!). When you do your other writing, you're thinking about your readers and also how you want your words to sound to them. I think the same applies to fiction.

  3. Great post, Paula. I think the trick with voice is to relax enough to let the words flow. I think your voice shows through when you're as natural as possible and don't over think it. And I agree that you shouldn't try to copy others' voices.

  4. Agree completely, Jen, about letting it flow and not over-thinking it. If you're writing what feels right to you, then that's your voice!

  5. As a singer and voice teacher I have thought about this a lot and worked hard to help my students allow their own voices to come through. This can be very difficult when they don't believe they have "good" voice, or have only copied other singers. Excellent post.

  6. That's a really good comparison with singing, Joy. Thanks for visiting us!

  7. Great post, Paula.

    I absolutely agree that voice isn't something that you can learn. It's the part of you that makes it into your writing and what makes all of those basic, standard plots and storylines 'different'.

  8. Thanks, Debra. Someone replied to my 'tweet' about this, saying "Good article. The unique voice of each writer is obvious to a reader but a mystery to us when we are writing." I thought that was a good comment.
    It also shows, BTW, that people visit our blog without necessarily leaving a comment here! But I wish they'd comment here as well as on Twitter and Facebook!

  9. Thanks for visiting my blog earlier today and for sharing your insights about voice in this post.