In short, your writing voice is you. It’s an intangible quality that makes a reader want to read more of your work. You can’t learn it. You can’t copy from anyone else. But a big problem is--if you ask 5 writers to describe “voice”, you’ll get 15 answers.
Voice may be easier to define by pointing out what it’s not. Some people describe voice as tone, character mood, or style, but it’s none of those things.
Voice is not tone The tone of something you write depends more on content. It’s more about where your work will be published. For instance, if you choose the topic “How much makeup is appropriate for a teen to wear?” the tone will be vastly different than if you write about “Teenagers popping their parents’ anxiety meds.” The tone may also vary, say if you write the article for a parent magazine, versus publishing in a medical journal.
Voice is not Characterization Say you read a scene in a book and think to yourself: I wouldn’t have let the main character do that if I’d written this book. Even if you rewrite the scene making your heroine sweet, not bold, smart, not subdued, or sassy instead of polite—how the character acts doesn’t depict your voice.
Voice is not Style Writing style most often appears in the similarities a writer chooses to structure sentences, or common rendering of a single item from different points of view. Is the moon always cold and bright, or big and yellow? That’s style.
Then what is Voice? It’s you, the writer’s unique way of expressing emotions, situations or life events. It shows and reflects your spirit.
Strunk and White in The Elements of Style says voice is the expression of self.
Christie Craig and Faye Hughes in Your Writer’s Voice say your voice makes you stand out from other writers. Your voice could be described as poetic, gritty, dark, quirky, humorous, or sensual. But something about the way you create images speaks to individual likes or dislikes of your readers, who will say they like or hate your voice.
Rebecca Vinyard’s article: Have You Found Your Voice? believes you can’t create voice, rather it’s something that just “is”. Voice should flow naturally from your thoughts. And she says writers must take care not to edit out your voice as you attempt to emulate a writer whose work you admire. Trying to imitate another writer can stifle your rhythm, your attitude, your personal outlook that sets your work apart.
Mary Reed McCall says successful voice is like tuning a piano. Keep honing your words and phrases until they sing for you, and until they sound right to your inner ear.
So while describing voice is elusive and hard to pin down, the more you put yourself into the pages you write, the more of your emotional mountains and valleys will shine through, and the more the writing is in your voice.
In Lisa Annis’ article Finding Your Voice, she thinks once you determine your story’s course, “along the way it picks up particles of you. Like a river picking up bits of particles as it flows, so your story carries your voice out to the ocean of readers. That, she says, is voice. Voice is you.”