But when I asked other people who have read my books, they gave other definitions. One said, cozy, wry and direct. Another said; honest. Someone said: sympathetic, empathetic, but also physical in that I feel I’ve been to the settings you describe.
So does your voice come out in your descriptions, in your dialogue, or in how you depict your characters? It should. By the same token your novel writer’s voice probably isn’t the voice you use when writing things in your day job. There you may be reflecting expectations by your boss or the company. For instance I remember when I worked for 3 doctors, each had a distinctive way of talking to their patients. So any time they’d toss something on my desk that needed a response, they’d often tell me: “say something appropriate”. I tried very hard to use their more formal tone and weed out any Roz-isms. It wasn’t until I began to write books that I looked back and understood what I’d done. So generally in novel writing big words aren’t important, but how even simple words are strung together.
Editors frequently say they want new, fresh voices. Yet when pressed, they often say they’ll know when they see it. I suspect they don’t want you to try to sound like a writer. Since you don’t talk like anyone else, why should you write like anyone else? Because a writer’s story usually come from within, from subconscious thoughts, the first time you put your story ideas on a page reflects your voice. The more you tinker with what you’ve written, the less of your voice shines through. Sometimes that means you make your writing too stilted or flat-sounding. Too much editing or rewriting can quash your natural sparkle. So can writing to the market.
I believe a writer’s voice is why we can’t compare our work to other writers. What I write is my tone, my attitude, my individuality shown through my characters. Of course characters evolve from people in our lives, past and present, both enemies and friends, and even some dead. Still they are born from a place deep inside of our own selves. Just as an artist’s work can be recognized by a choice of colors, style, subjects, the same is true of an author developing voice. It’s sometimes how a writer treats the subject chosen. For instance give several writers the same subject and one may turn out gritty realism while another might show mystical fantasy. Another may turn the subject into pithy, sarcastic humor, and a fourth make the subject sound sensual and poetic. That’s voice.
Voice may well be why a reader reaches time and again for the same author’s books. It may be a repetition of style, or cadence that identifies the work. Does the reader like wordy descriptions, modern slang, or something told in short, punchy sentences? All are telling when it comes to writing true to your own voice. Your voice will find its audience.
A new writer shouldn’t try to write exactly like an author they love, because to write like another writer is to copy. Your voice is your interpretation of whatever subject you are writing about. Voice isn’t technique. It’s a composite of your beliefs, hopes, dreams, fears, memories, passions, achievements and failures.
Although a writer’s voice is unique it also needs to speak to readers so they recognize some part of their own personality in your story characters. I recall serving as an author panel once where the overall discussion was to be: Voice is the Key to Story Magic. Three of us set out seven steps to finding a prospective writer’s voice. I’ll list them here, and even though this panel was a half dozen years ago, see if you think they still apply.
1. Write through first draft without self-editing. Read through to identify strengths and weaknesses.
2. Listen to your instincts—if it sounds right, keep it.
3. Sit back and analyze what you like about your own story.
4. If you blog or journal regularly, notice your choice of topics and how you choose to tell about the subject.
5. Just let go. Give yourself permission to write what you want, not what others are writing, or what seems trendy.
6. Explore. Push boundaries. Free your characters to say what first comes to mind.
7. Finally, write more. Hone the voice you’ve discovered, plot story ideas that showcase what stands out.
Now in winding down I again remind, don’t compare yourself to other writers, because you can’t write in their voice. Remember that your writer voice is an expression of self. Voice is not only indicative of your character, but is an expression of your spirit. In a nutshell, your voice is your thoughts shining through the vocabulary you’ve chosen for individual story characters. And books with strong voice withstand the test of time.
Since the majority of people reading this blog are writers, I’m really interested in hearing everyone’s comments on the subject of writer voice.