Saturday, October 4, 2014
Loud and Clear: Finding Your Voice: Part 1: What Is Voice
You’ve likely heard it. Agents and editors saying the number one thing they are looking for is something with voice.
You’ve probably experienced it. That feeling when you pick up a book, open to page one, and are immediately sucked into a world you don’t want to leave with characters you swear you’ve known forever.
That’s voice. Is it subjective? Maybe? Is it some elusive thing? Some talent you either have or don’t have?
I don’t think so, and I’m kicking off a five-part series to show you why. To show you that voice is simply another tool in your writer’s belt that you can pull out and slam readers over the head with (in a very good way).
For this first part, I’m going to try to define what we mean by voice.
Song covers are a great way to think about voice. The exact same song sung by two different artists can be radically different. Take the original “Womanizer” by Britney Spears and compare it to this version by Postmodern Jukebox. One is all pop. The other is a retro forties jazz number. The artists took the same raw elements, but the end results are vastly different. From the vocalization to the musical arrangement, they put their individual stamp—their voice—on the song.
The same is true in writing. You can give two writers the exact same characters, plot points, and setting, and you will get two entirely different stories. Because all writers come to the work with their own preferences, thoughts, and styles.
Voice is the way you tell a story that no one else can tell in the exact same way.
Is Voice the Same as Tone?
Short answer: Not exactly.
You can consider tone a subset of voice. If voice is the personality of a story, then tone is the mood. A writer may describe their voice as funny, but the mood of their individual piece might be dark or biting or silly or sarcastic.
What About Style? Is Voice the Same as Style?
Though voice and style are likely used interchangeably, I think of voice as encompassing more than just your writing style. It’s not just your unique way of putting words together. Voice is bigger than that; voice is your unique way of looking at the world. It’s your perspective, your outlook. It influences your style, but voice represents more than just the words on the page.
Every time you type a word or a line of dialogue, you are making a voice decision. The trick is finding your own distinct voice and letting it shine.
So How Do I Find My Writing Voice?
By reading this series on voice, for starters!
Over the next four posts, I’ll cover first the technical elements of voice you need to be aware of and then offer some specific tips and exercises you can do to find your own voice.
All writing is craft, and voice is no different. Once you know what goes into creating voice, you can begin working on honing your own. But first, you need to trust that your voice is just as good as anyone else’s. That your voice matters. That your voice is worth sharing.
It’s safe to emulate another author’s style. But you can’t build or sustain an enjoyable career by writing like someone else. You have to be true to your unique sensibility and trust that your distinct voice and way of looking at the world is “right” because it’s yours.
As a writer, it’s exhausting to write like someone else—to write like someone you’re not. Once you let yourself fill your pages, the readers will come.
This series on voice is the first step in understanding and crafting your writing voice.
Whose voices do you love? Share your favorite authors and why you love their writing voice!
Lori Goldstein is the author of Becoming Jinn (now available for preorder; Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, May 12, 2015, sequel, Spring 2016). With a degree in journalism and more than 10 years of experience, Lori is a freelance copyeditor and manuscript consultant for all genres. She focuses on the nitty-gritty, letting writers focus on the writing.
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