I am no expert on voice. I do notice that many of my main characters do not in any way sound like I do or like each other. However, it’s said that many famous authors have such a distinctive voice that you can always tell who wrote something. This means they use the same voice for all their writings. More about that later.

Below are some thoughts by other writers about voice. I read through blogs and articles to come up with these and paraphrased them. I leave it up to you to take what resonates with you and forget the rest.

Voice is simply the way you use language. But of course, it’s not really that simple.

Probably you want the reader to “hear” the story in her head as well as read it. Your voice should resonate. It should be uniquely you. It’s you, wrapped up in the way you express yourself on the page. It consists of your originality and your courage to express it.

It’s not censored (except for audience appeal—you may swear like a sailor at home, but if you’re writing for children, you have to quit that when you write).

It’s how you do humor—self-deprecating, sarcastic, outrageous, gentle, etc.

It’s when you get what you’re feeling when you’re writing a scene down on the page in your character’s viewpoint. Let it all hang out. You can edit out any melodrama later.

Most of all, it’s natural, one writer says. Not forced, not planned, but coming from deep within your subconscious mind. In other words, just let the words flow from you as you write. You can change them a little later, but if you change their order, even the actual words, too much, the voice will no longer be truly your own.

Or it is planned. You figure out what your character’s voice would sound like, and you use that throughout. It comes from the character’s personality, not your own. You’re not plucky, but she is, so she sounds a lot different from you. She has different thoughts. She does things you’d never do. Thus she has her own, unique voice. The next story you write has a plodder as the main character. His voice is somber, muted, sardonic, maybe.

From all this, I hope you can see you have to make up your own mind what voice is and what you’re going to do about it in your own writing. I know that I pick, consciously or subconsciously, a different voice for each of my main characters. Or at least I think I do. And I rarely edit very much except for clarity or echo words or bad grammar and spelling. Because I think too much editing and overthinking interrupts the flow I was in when I wrote and probably changes the voice so that it’s stilted and unrecognizable. Or, worst of all, every characters sounds the same.

But that’s me. You may decide to use the same voice for all your characters. Many famous writers do that. I don’t know that they chose that way on purpose, but it’s there. But I think they edit carefully to preserve the way they believe the text should sound. And there’s nothing wrong with that obviously because they did become famous.

And one more thought. Maybe the writers who have such distinctive voices use it in the narrative, but each of their characters has his or her own voice. But us modern writers don’t seem to use as much narrative as the writers of old, and we tend to write in close third person or even in first person. In that case, it seems to me each story would have a different sounding voice. But again, you may not be as comfortable with that as I am and decide to use the same voice for everything you write.

I’d love to read some comments about this issue. There’s certainly no consensus about exactly what voice consists of.

4 thoughts on “VOICE

  1. I write in third person, multiple POVs. I try to become each one of my characters and give them a different voice. I make up habits and tics, repetitive phrases they use, and anything else that sets them apart from another character. I’ve been told in reviews that my characters seem like they come off the page, so I must be doing something right. Voice should not be confused with writing style. That doesn’t change from book to book, even if the dialogue and characterizations do.

  2. I’ve written so many short stories, though, thatI think even my style changes. The style just has to be different, it seems to me, between a cozy and noir. But I’m still not 100% sure about any of this, except the characters should sound/act/be easy to differentiate from one another. I think maybe the rest isn’t really under our control, much.

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