“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 www.literarydevices.com: 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.