What is Voice? Not Everyone has it.

September 16, 2011

What is voice? Not everyone has it. I initiated this for discussion on one of the writers group site (either Talking Fiction or Fiction Writers Bureau) and the discussion is jumping from site to site. All manner of writers have plenty to say on the subject. Everyone has the answer, and each answer it different. Amusingly, all writers claim to have one. I decided to post some of the “voices” as a blog even as the discussion continues to rage.

Sean Patrick O’Mordha • I have rarely seen so many quality postings. One of you should compile these into a blog, but be sure to let us know where we can find it to share.

Larry Purcell • Correct. If you can’t (or perhaps don’t want to) find your voice, whose do you use? Each new protagonist that you dredge up from your writing soul’s depth? Oh boy, what a predicament. But a good one… just think, how much fun it is to create! and with a new voice – but what to do if we are stuck with the same old voice for everything.That’ s how we write. First, we find our voice! It can be a lifelong search and sometimes with zip results; and what if we never find it? Do we stop? Sure, if you don’t love to write, or live and breathe to write...

Lauren B. Davis • What is “voice”: • Voice is a very ordinary thing. It is who you are, projected artistically • It is often linked to your speaking voice, and your breath, and the rhythms and sense of pace that you draw on when you are too absorbed in what you’re saying to listen to yourself. • It is linked to your body – how you perceive yourself and the way you take up space • It is linked to the language and dialect you spoke in childhood and, • It is linked to whatever naturally interests you. • Your voice is how you write when you don’t have the time to be elegant. • Voice is the natural way you write, when you write naturally. Not to be confused with uncrafted writing – it is the way you write when you’re not trying to write like someone else. It is the authentic you, on the page. There is much confusion concerning the difference between a writers ‘voice’ and the voice which is the character’s voice and that which is the atmosphere of the work. Remember that the narrator, even if it is a 3rd person narrator, is a character in the work as well. It is individual and unique to that particular work, especially with novels, and may change from story to story, novel to novel. It probably will. This is not to be confused with the way a body of work communicates the world view and the opinions of the author. If we look, contextually, at the work of Toni Morrison, or James Joyce, or Graeme Greene, we have a sense of the mind behind the works. Although each work is self-contained and has its own atmosphere, you would not confuse the mind of Faulkner with the mind of Greene. It is a question of cultural perspective, upbringing, experience, neurosis and obsessions, natural rhythm and inclination, both personal and political. This is not something that can be learned, or taught. The character’s voice is what you need to concentrate on, as is the atmosphere you are attempting to create for the work as a whole. Consistency of image, of word usage, of symbol etc. That is something which improves through discipline, your personal voice as a writer does not improve – it emerges, organically, as you learn to trust yourself as a writer.

Mark Tierno • Voice for a character to me is the combination of verbal mannerisms that a given character uses when it speaks. If it’s distinctive enough then you might not even need to indicate who is speaking with “said so-and-so”. If we’re talking the voice of the author, then the same definition applies, only we’d be talking about a real person instead of a fictional one.

Kenneth Weene • Every character has to have a uniqueness to his/her voice, but it the voice of the narrator which truly enriches a story – especially a novel. The way the story is told tells us so much and more importantly takes us inside the tale where we are able to feel part of the events.

Ronald Louis Peterson • To me the writer’s voice is what the author chooses to describe or discuss in settings, scenes and action, how the author describes it and how the author relates it to the story: physical, emotional, spiritual, sensory descriptions, etc. and how much weight is given to each with respect to everything else. Different authors would describe the same story in different ways just as different musicians interpret a piece of music or a song differently. As a result, readers come away with different experiences.

Valerie Douglas • Voice, in general, refers to a writer’s style, not the characters. It’s about how you tell the story. So when someone says they don’t like your ‘voice’ it’s the general overall style of your writing and very much a case of personal preference.