It’s interesting the subjects I’m asked to speak on when invited to conferences or other writer’s meetings. Point of view is right up there because so many novice writers aren’t sure what it is or how to handle it. Probably the most difficult subject in this craft is voice. We hear so often that editors reject because the writer doesn’t have a distinct voice. Among other things, of course. The top reason for rejection is unsympathetic characters, especially the point of view character (s).
These two subjects are often so closely tied together that it’s difficult to separate them. When we speak of voice, is it the voice of our POV character or the voice of the author? Often impossible to distinguish between.
The writer’s voice shines through in everything she writes. It comes from her heart, her soul. From the way her father sang to her, the way her mother taught her to cook or ride a horse. The way she and her brother played together or argued and in the end, learned to love each other. That upbringing, be it good or bad, distinguishes a writer’s voice from any others’.
We only have to read some of today’s best authors to understand what is meant by voice. To my mind, one of the finest writers today is James Lee Burke. Read more than one of his books, and you could pick his writing out of many examples. If you want to know what it’s like to live and work in Louisiana, read Burke. He’ll put you there, so firmly you almost get lost. His characters are so rich we know them immediately, right down to the villain, who after all, has a good reason for being so mean, so evil.
Some of the worst writers also have a voice, usually one we hate. Like they tend to be repetitive, boring, too sarcastic, etc. Personally, I hate the voice of Robin Cook. His stories translate well to movies, if you like medical suspense, but the repetitive nature of his writing is lost when we get to the story in a visual art like movies. This is, of course, my humble opinion, and not meant to be taken as criticism.
If you want to try to develop a voice of your very own, learn to tell your stories to a recorder. Get dramatic and tell them as if you had an audience. Use the voices of each character as well as the narrator (who should always be your POV character.) Remember when you were a kid and you sat around at night telling each other ghost stories? Remember how you acted out the story. Do that. Then listen to your story, write it down from the words you put on tape. Think how it makes you feel, add your emotions, your five senses, your compassion, allow yourself to laugh out loud and cry. Go overboard if you want, you can always take out the overabundance of purple prose if necessary.
There are so many different ways to phrase every sentence you write. Write with a rhythm so that the words sing. Remember that singers and dancers practice endlessly until they get each movement, each tone just right. Be prepared to do that with your writing. Rewrite every sentence until it works, until you feel it deep down inside.
Read your favorite writers and see how differently they might write the same description or scene. Learn to spot a writer’s voice in what you read and you’ll be able to improve your own voice until it becomes as distinct as you yourself are.
Then, one day, someone will say to you, “I love your voice,” and all that work will be worth it.