“I’m looking for a distinctive voice.”
Writers often hear agents and editors say the above, but what do they mean? What is voice?
We all know what an audible voice is. When I receive a phone call, I can usually tell within seconds which of my friends is on the line. It’s a combination of factors: pitch, tone, words used, and speed of talk. The same can be said of writing.
In writing, VOICE is the way the words “sound” on the page, and every writer has a voice that’s a product of his or her life experiences. The uniqueness of voice starts with the subject the writer picks to write about, and/or the genre. Voice continues with the words the writer chooses to use. Will they be lyrical or high brow? Sassy or serious? Will the tone be light or dark? Voice is evident in sentence structure. Does the writer use long, convoluted sentences, short, staccato sentences, or something in between?
The writer’s view of life is a critical part of a writer’s voice. I’m an optimist. I view life in a positive way, see people as potential friends, events as learning experiences. I want and look for the happy ending. That’s why I write romances and mysteries. In both genres there’s a “happy” ending. Either the girl gets the guy or the good guy gets the bad guy.
As a writer, it could be said I’ve led a deprived life. I grew up in a happy household, never had to suffer any great tragedy, and am surrounded by wonderful, loving people. There is no way I could write a book that Oprah would choose for her book club. On the other hand, writers who are raised in dysfunctional families, who have been physically or verbally abused, can and do use those experiences to write the darker novels.
New writers often try to imitate the voices of successful writers. It’s good to study successful writers, but ultimately one must develop his or her own voice, and the best way to do that is write. Write, write, and write some more until what you’ve written ceases to be a copy but expresses your personal way of thinking and talking. One good piece of advice I received many years ago is “Write as if you’re talking to a friend.”
Of course writers can change some elements of their voice when necessary. When I switched from writing romances to writing mysteries, I had to drop the euphemisms and long descriptions of sexual tension that I’d used in my romances. For the mysteries I needed to develop grittier language and faster pacing. But overall, my voice has stayed the same: short sentences, rural settings, wry humor, and positive endings.
Is my voice distinctive? I don’t know, but it is my voice and either readers will like it or they won’t. I am who I am.