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?