Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V - Voice

Agents and editors affirm that ‘voice’ is one of the most important factors when considering a manuscript. 

But its also one of the hardest to nail down because there isn’t one thing that identifies ‘voice’.  I mean, is it the voice you hear in your head while reading?  Is it style?  Is it tone?  Is it the humor, point of view, or vocabulary the author chooses to employ?

Is it all of the above?

My answer would be yes.  To me, voice is kind of like your writing ‘accent’.  I’m not talking about slipping into an irish brogue or a southern drawl when you’re writing.  I’m talking about relaying the words in the way they’re ‘meant’ to be written when telling this particular story. 
Voice can change from piece to piece, with each story and each set of characters.  It changes if you’re writing in the first person (where your mc is describing events in their own way)  or in the third person- a storyteller who retains a clear ‘voice’ meanwhile describing the thoughts and actions of the characters.

A few questions to ask yourself before you sit down to write.  What kind of story is this?  Is it lighthearted and funny?  Dark, suspenseful, or thrilling?  The voice you use should immediately hint at what’s ahead.  If the voice is full of foreboding, regret, sorrow, you settle in for a darker tale.  If the first lines are light or funny, you know you’re in for a more humorous read.

 All of these can be relayed depending on the vocabulary you choose- for instance, these are some ‘first sentences’ from a few books in which the voice is immediately apparent:

Mysterious:  ‘The secret is how to die.’
Haunting:  ‘This story begins in a city of bones.’
Light:  ‘Nowhere is unemployment more disastrous than in the area of romance.’

What creates voice isn’t just the words themselves, but how the person telling the story uses them. 

I mean, what if the first sentence read:  ‘How to die is the secret.’—it changes the effect doesn’t it?

What does ‘voice’ mean to you?  

24 comments:

salarsenッ said...

Nice post, sweets. A writer's voice is as unique as each of his/her characters as unique as each human being on the planet. *breathing now* It's a combination of the writer's life experiences flowing through his/her known and hidden emotions, the intent he/she has for each character, and the desired journey of the story.

M J Francis said...

I'm glad you pointed out that voice can change from story to story. This is a very important point to make, because I get the impression many writers out there confuse narrative voice with their own, or think they have to find a single narrative voice that fits all their stories. I'll be covering this in my next "On Writing" blog post, with regards to Narrators (I will get round to it, eventually).

Jen Daiker said...

Great post! Voice to me is the feeling I get while reading the novel. Like you said, if it's mysterious I want to feel the mystery with each passing page.

I sit down and tell myself what genre the book is to be, that normally allows me to feel the proper emotions. Music also helps ;)

Vicki Rocho said...

Great post! Voice is one of those you'll know it when you see it kinda things.


Pssssssst. I have something for you. ;)

Kelly said...

Voice is so important. My ms voice is usually light hearted. In my current wip, I told my writing partner he needed to help me make the mc's voice a little more serious for me because I think she is more serious than I am making her. But it's hard for me to be serious. :)

KatieO said...

Voice is one of the trickiest things about writing. It's the hardest to pin down and define, but it's the thing that makes or breaks the novel.

Donna Weaver said...

Great. Remind of one more thing I have to worry about. Now I have stress.

;) (like I didn't already)

Lauracea said...

They say we eventually find our voice, I wish I could find mine but it sure is hidden. Or else I have a very silly, flippant voice :(

klahanie said...

Apparently, when the two people on a good day, read my garbage, they hear it and read it in a Canadian accent eh :)

Nicole L Rivera said...

Great post! I agree with everything you say about voice. I think it's like mannerisms and expressions. We absorb and develop them throughout our life and then they just come out naturally. Every one walks a little different, it's neither right or wrong, it's just their unique take on something most everyone does in one way or another. What makes the walk something to look at? Who knows? I personally love Lauri Halse Anderson's voice in all of her novels even though they are told by different POV characters. It's the way she get into their mind and puts it on paper--maybe that's voice. I'm still not sure, so I'm going to stop here.
Awesome post!

Laura Marcella said...

When I was in college, my fiction writing professor had everyone do a writing exercise to find our own unique voice. We were to imitate a favorite author's writing voice. The idea is that as you're writing, your own voice will show through no matter how hard you try to mimic another's. It so works!

Old Kitty said...

Yay for a fab voice post!!! I think the moment you as a writer are submerged bodily and spiritually and mentally in your story, your voice and voices will come through. I hope so anyway! take care
x

Matthew MacNish said...

Voice is kind of like porn. I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.

Shallee said...

This is a great post on voice! For me, voice is about getting to know the character. It's their unique way of looking at the world-- not just the things the say, but the things they pay attention to, and how the world just IS for them. It's a very hard thing to get right!

Jackie said...

I think the written voice is very much like a normal voice. It's not defined by any one characteristic, though occasionally something will jump out. Voice is the tone, the rhythm, the syntax and diction of a piece; it is also the vocabulary of the author, the viewpoint--as you've said. It's even in the way a writer will emphasize certain syllables or words. It's the music in the written word.

Cynthia Lee said...

I agree with Matthew. Voice is impossible to really define but you know it when you read it.

And while I may think a book/story is just flush with voice - another person make thing it's crap.

My ex-husband used to say that Charles Dickens was a bad writer with terrible voice. Seriously. He said that.

Carolyn V said...

TOTALLY! You have to have voice. I agree with Vicki... when you read it, you see it. =D

Beverly Diehl said...

One of the hardest things is to translate voice from the novel to the synoposis and the query, especially a novel told in first person POV.

It's also one of the most important things to keep - if the novel is light and chatty and funny, somehow you've got to work that voice into 1-2 paragraghs of query. Ugh!

Beverly Diehl said...

One of the hardest things is to translate voice from the novel to the synoposis and the query, especially a novel told in first person POV.

It's also one of the most important things to keep - if the novel is light and chatty and funny, somehow you've got to work that voice into 1-2 paragraghs of query. Ugh!

Katie Anderson said...

Voice is one of the most important aspects of novel writing for me. I like to take the part of the omnipotent narrator. It's much more fun that way!

Sue H said...

'Voice' is your literary signature - your own, inimitable style.

Just found you (yes, even at this late stage of the A-Z challenge!) via the 'surprise me' button - I'll be back for more! ;-)

SueH I refuse to go quietly!

Anita said...

It's a thumbprint for each piece of work. Give me a paragraph from THE ROAD and I'll go, Yeah that's Cormac. Give me something from JUNIE B. and I'll say, Yep, that's Parks.

LTM said...

I don't really think about it like that... I try to think about it as "tone." Like what do I want the tone of this to be--intense, light, scary, etc. And based on that, I choose my words, descriptions and reactions.

Is that the same thing? I dunno. :D <3

Julie Musil said...

I've tried to nail down voice, but when I focus on it too much, I freak out. I guess I just get in the character's head and narrate the story their way. Hopefully voice comes across ok *bites nails*

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