Don’t Lose Your Voice

“I love the voice.” I’ve heard that said about books, and I’ve heard agents and editors say, “I’m looking for a fresh voice” or “It’s the voice that counts.”

So what is voice?

According to Voice in literature is the individual style in which a certain author writes his or her works. Voice includes many different literary devices and stylistic techniques, including syntax, semantics, diction, dialogue, character development, tone, pacing, and even punctuation.

That’s a pretty ambiguous definition. Simplified, I think it’s the way a person talks or writes, the phrasing, the words chosen, the pauses and repetitions. Often, when I read something written by a friend, I can almost hear that person talking.

Just as we each have a unique way of walking and holding our bodies as we walk that allows a person to be identified even from a distance, how a person speaks and writes allows identification. Sure, there are similar elements from one writer to the next, but it’s the differences that give variety to the writing.

What worries me about critique groups is they can kill a voice. In the process of making certain every sentence is grammatically correct, every paragraph tightly written, and each word easily understood, the uniqueness of the piece may disappear. There is, I believe, a fine line between improving a piece and killing it.

A writer who has confidence in his or her writing will listen to all suggestions, take note where more than one person has indicated a problem with a section/sentence/word, and will then decide whether to make changes or leave it as is. But, not all writers have that confidence. New writers, especially, may walk away from a critiquing session not only confused but ready to make every suggested change. When that happens, what is produced is a group voice, not the writer’s voice.

So what should a writer, new or seasoned, do?

My suggestion is listen to what others say, but don’t focus on the negatives. Make sure readers can understand what you’re saying, but don’t feel you have to change your writing style to meet everyone’s expectations. Don’t lose your voice.

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6 Responses to Don’t Lose Your Voice

  1. One woman in our critique group lamented that her husband complained that her writing sounded just like her. We assured her that that was a good thing…it was her voice.

  2. You’re absolutely right, Maris, about the danger of editing out a voice. I look for something distinctive in the first few pages and walk away if it isn’t there. Too many books sound alike now. A distinctive voice can make all the difference to a prospective reader.

  3. Very wise words, Maris. “…listen to what others say, but don’t focus on the negatives” should join the other bits on my Pay Attention bulletin board.

    I’m currently dealing with an editor’s comments. My first reaction to a couple of them were that she was eradicating my voice. On further consideration, I realized that some of my phrasing sounded…amateurish…rather than ‘me-ish’. So yes. Listen, and think!

    • Maris Soule says:

      It usually takes me a day or two to process an editor’s comments (unless it’s praise, of course 🙂 )My first reaction is generally negative (What does he/she mean it doesn’t sound right?) but by the end of day two, I usually understand and agree. (Usually, but not always.)