Aah, voice. One of the most elusive aspects of creative writing. Have you ever picked up a novel and immediately loved the sound of the words on the page? Did you hear a voice in your head that was incredibly appealing? Or on the contrary, did you find that the voice was unappealing, and you couldn’t imagine spending two or three hundred pages with that voice?
That is the power of voice.
Agents and editors want to also feel compelled to listen to the voice of a story for hundreds of pages, but they find it difficult to explain what it is about voices that appeal to them and voices that do not. That leaves us as authors to work on developing the voice that appeals to us and hope that audiences agree!
So how do you develop a voice that works for your story?
People think in different ways, and your characters should, too! You may have heard before that each character should have their own distinct voice. Early in my writing career, I recall thinking about this differently than I do now. For instance, I would have each character use a different turn of phrase or word choice. That helped, but it was not enough.
Point-of-view characters, or those that are the voices of our stories, choose their words because of their thoughts, and their thoughts are influenced based on what is important to them as people.
Let me use some of my current manuscripts as examples here. In the first book, Gridiron Girl, the protagonist, Julia, compares many things in life to football. She uses sports analogies and football metaphors because she lives and breathes football, and has her whole life with three older brothers that all played the position of quarterback. That’s how she thinks. That is her voice.
In book 2, Disorder on the Court, the protagonist, Melanie, plays volleyball. Her best friend is a science genius who conducts scientific experiments in his backyard. Melanie tends to think in volleyball analogies and scientific terminology. That’s who she is.
What your character loves influences them. I’m a mother of four children and a writer/teacher of writing. In my everyday life, I reference parenting stories and moments and writerly advice. I connect with people and with life through the lens that I use to see the world.
As characters do.
Earlier in the chapter on character, you gave some thought to what makes your characters unique. You made some choices about how they connect with the world. When you develop their voice, you want to be sure you are choosing metaphors, analogies, advice, and everyday dialogue based on how that particular character sees the world.
Voice is so important yet also enigmatic. I strongly encourage you to review the additional resources at the end of the chapter but more than that to set out on a journey to study voice, not just now in your writerly journey but at every step in the journey.
More than once - honestly, more than twenty times - I have heard agents and editors say that the first thing that grabs them about a piece of writing is the voice.
Voice, voice, voice!
Some authors have a natural voice that readers cannot get enough of. Other authors do not. Of course, all authors can work on developing their style and therefore their voice.
Let me also note that there is a difference between the narrative voice of a story and an author’s voice. Yet there are also similarities, too. I know - why is everything associated with writing so contradictory?!
An author has a specific writing style. It could be more literary with descriptions and metaphors throughout the pages. Or it could be more snarky and telling - or any number of alternatives.
All of that said, although an author has a voice and a style, they will make decisions to vary that voice with each novel they write. Take for instance the points I made earlier in this chapter about how my characters see the world. My authorial voice may be similar in terms of the style of the writing for every book in the series, but the narrative voice will differ.
I fear this chapter has raised more questions than answers with a rather nebulous discussion of voice. That said, explore the exercises and additional resources at the end of the chapter, and continue critically analyzing your own authorial voice and the narrative voice of your character. The more that you read and write, the stronger your voice will become.
- Read the first paragraph of ten different books in less than ten minutes. How do the voices for each novel differ? Are any of the voices more appealing than others? If so, what kinds of voice appeals to you, and what voices do not? How does this knowledge influence your own narrative voice?
- Choose a passage from a favorite author and rewrite it in your own words, incorporating your style, tone, and perspective. Experiment with different genres and writing styles. Write a scene in the style of a mystery novel; then try it as a romantic comedy. How does this help you better understand your voice?
- Write a letter from one of your characters to another. Incorporate that character’s voice in the details. Then, write another letter as a reply. The reply should be written in a different voice, one that reflects that character. What does this exercise teach you about both of these characters?
5 Ways to Develop Your Writer’s Voice
How to Find Your Writer’s Voice
Voice: An Agent’s Perspective
"Chapter 8: Developing Your Voice" was created by Tamara Girardi and was licensed as CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 in October of 2023.