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Voice, Voice, Voice


Voice.  Yes, I know it's a popular topic and I've talked about it before, but it also seems like one of the hardest things to get our minds around.


Wanting to find a strong/fresh/interesting voice seems to be the A-number-one commonality among agents and editors. It was mentioned at every agent/editor panel I attended at RWA.  However, it also seems to be one of the most elusive things to define.  Even the pros seem to struggle with pinning down a definition when asked--it's one of those things they just know when they read it.

Which, of course, makes us panic because we want everything in our manuscript to be perfect--and dammit, we want to make sure we've nailed voice, too.  But, I'm here to tell you--you already know what a good voice is. Think of any of your favorite authors.  If that author were to write a new book and someone were to give it to you without the author's name on it--would you be able to recognize who had written it?

Yes?  That's voice.  It's how the author tells the story, the word choices, turns of phrase, the humor, the writing style.  It's the personality of the writing.  So, look and see, does your story show that personality?  And is it a personality that will appeal to people?

Voice is the difference between saying:

I can't answer the phone right now, please leave a message.  


"I know how devastated you are to miss me, but leave a message, and I'll try to ease your agony." --Adrian from Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series. 

Yes, some of that is character voice (I talked about the difference here), but it's also Richelle Mead's snarky, fun style.


So the key is figuring out what your voice is and making sure it makes it onto the page.  And don't force a voice that isn't yours.  Brenda Chin, the senior editor at Harlequin Blaze, said on a panel that voice can't really be changed--it's too tied to who the author is--but that it can be honed.  And as with most things with writing, the only way to hone it, is to continue to write, write, write.  Your voice will show itself in time.

So do you struggle to find your voice?  How would you define your own voice?  Which author's voice do you admire?

**Today's Theme Song**
"The Voice Within" - Christina Aguilera
(player in sidebar, take a listen)


Reader Comments (21)

I'm trying to find my voice. And the search is enjoyable, but I'm not sure what the results are yet.

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie McGee

LOL, I have Adrians voicemail as my voicemail!

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSavannah

I literally lost my voice once for a couple of years and ironically found it in writing. While I couldn't speak I delved fully into my story and poured myself out onto the page. Eventually my pages began to follow a familiar pattern and the writing took on a life of it's own. Voice. It's a wonderful thing to find.

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie Dair

I've done some experimenting with voice. My recent paranormal is light and I tried to keep the tone consistent with how the heroine would talk to herself. My other books, though, I didn't do that. I have wondered if readers would expect all my work to have the same tone!

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIndia Drummond

I'm not so worried about voice, as such. It's usually pretty easy to tell when I've written something, no matter the genre, the characters, the setting. I've sort of resigned myself to it. I don't know if it's fresh or unique, but it's me. I've tried to deliberately write with a different voice and it was a disaster. Now, character voice, that I have trouble with. My characters tend to sound an awful lot like me--even the sixteen year old boy who turns into a dragon. I've got a ways to go there.

Thanks for sharing more advice from RWA--it's been very helpful!

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterj.leigh.bailey

I like how you've explained it here; seems pretty concise.

Voice is, I think, the most drawing factor in a piece of writing. And I think all writers have their own voice, it's just a matter of finding it, and then owning it.

Great post!

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJanna Qualman

I bed to differ with some of my colleagues. Would the author's voice in first person for instance, be the voice of the narrator, often the MC?

So if you write a book being narrated by an Irish immigrant and then one about a New Yorker, upper-west side Hadassah card carrying yenta and turn around and then become a goomba from Brooklyn ... how on earth can you "sound" the same?

Also, the "voice" of third person is told from the POV of one character but must adapt to every character's voice and inflections.

Have I confused "voice" with style and which do you think the voice actually is?

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFlorence

Oh, bother. I meant "beg."

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFlorence

Great post. I often find that my voice is different in different novels. Mine seems to be more character voice than writer voice. If that makes any sense, anyway.:)

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Walkup

Florence and Jennifer, what I think you're talking about is character voice, which is different from author voice. The pink link in the post above links to a post I did about the difference. And yes, author voice is tied to style. Your characters definitely need unique voices that fit them (i.e. my hero and heroine are going to have very different character voices. However, the three books I've written all have my overall voice in the elements of the book. Not sure if I'm making sense, lol.

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoni @ FictionGroupie

Hi Roni:

Great post. I kind of think a writer's overall voice is their unique world view. And sometimes, just knowing what that is, can help a writer pointedly make a distinction between one character's voice and another - by simply violating that view.


August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMurphy

Hi Roni,

Extremely good subject!

Its funny how every one of us happens to be "voicing" here, our unique voice narrating our thoughts in the same way we narrate a novel in between character voice and character thought mode!

Whether that narrative voice is what an editor is looking for is a moot point, most not knowing what "new voice" it is they are seeking until they see it in black and white.

No sooner "new voice" of today than "old voice" of tomorrow - publishers are fickle, profit motivating choice of "new voice" alongside the basic lure of storyline grabbing them by the throat!

My POV, that's all. ;)

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFrancine

I love posts on voice. I think when you’re trying too hard your true voice becomes smothered underneath all that fancy talk. :)

I was big fancy talker, until I figured out keeping it simple works best for me.

Lovely post.

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTracey J

I really enjoyed this post -- and I think there is such a fine line between being true to a character's voice and the point where the narrative can become annoying, over-the-top... so that there is a definite need for ensuring readers will LIKE the character's voice -- especially the mc.

Also, love that Christina song for today's theme!

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber Tidd Murphy

Ah...voice. I am familiar with this dilemma. Too, too familiar. *follows link to enlightenment*

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTina Lynn

Richelle Mead! Love her!

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOddyoddyo13

Courtney Summers has one of the best new YA voices. If anyone's still not sure what a great voice is check her two novels out.

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

I think can voice can emerge over time. One way to develop that voice is to keep writing and don't be afraid to experiment.

August 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Greci

Roni: Yes, I was confusing the two "voices." Your link was crystal clear.

Sure, that's why I love first person so much. I can be the character, and then the character can be funny and sarcastic ... like me.

I am "that" voice ... and not their's ...


August 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFlorence

I love Richelle's voice, too. I never used to pay attention to voice. Now I do. ;)

I tried writing my current wip with a different voice because it seemed to fit what I was going for in my character. It didn't work. It wasn't my voice. It ended up sounded bland and slightly awkward (as two agents put it).

My voice (my real one after I reworked the ms) recently resulted in an agent mentioning that she loves my voice (um, not that I've started querying yet). That was exactly what I needed to hear. :)

August 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStina Lindenblatt

Great topic! I am honing, honing, honing. I think its hard to disentangle oneself from the characters voice. I agree - somewhere in your writing, there is a consistent common voice if that makes sense, no matter who the characters are.

Favourite voices, I'm writing Contemporary Womens fiction but couldn't pinpoint just one voice - in fact I love quite a few across many genres.

And I do love Christina's song here!

August 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTalei

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