What is Voice?

As writers, there are four things that we hear about more than anything else:

  • Characters
  • Plot
  • Point of View (POV)
  • Narrative

Most writers tend to be either character-centric or plot-oriented. A plot oriented writer sees the story as a series of events that happen to the characters. Narrative fills in what you need to know and no more, and POV contributes to narrative.

A character-centric writer sees the story through the mind of the character. From their point of view. We see their inner narrative as the events of the plot come at them and they have no idea what the point of it all is until the end. We watch their outlook mature, their raw emotions mellow, and their thought process quicken.

Through voice.

Now, all this is not to say that plot-oriented writer can’t use voice, but I am a character-centric writer and this is how I know to explain it.

Voice (or deep POV) is something easy in concept but difficult in practice. In essence, voice is the writer’s style + the narrator’s personality. Note that I said the narrator’s personality, not that of a character, specifically. In plot-oriented situations, the narrator isn’t necessarily a character and, if it is, they are usually telling their story after the fact. They are more emotionally detached. In a character-centric story, the characters typically narrate as they go along. They tell you their story as they’re going through it.

Voice affects what he characters say (or don’t) and how they say it. For example, in my first novel, one of my POV characters is a formal, reserved, teenage girl. While she is reserved, that only affects what she says out loud. Her thoughts and feelings are still there. Because she is shy and reserved, her dialogue tends to be brief. That’s her personality contributing to voice. My style affects her unspoken dialogue and narrative. I tend to use short, simple works that make it an easy read. For comparison, I’ve been classified as a Hemingway in every single “writer personality” quiz I’ve taken. Short, to the point words without flowery description or purple prose. That’s my style.

The danger in cultivating voice is the ability for writers such as you and me to shrug off polishing and critique, excusing flaws as “voice” instead of owning up to lazy writing. Don’t do that. Be brutal in your editing. Still not sure if something needs to go? Keep these things in mind:

Voice = your style + the narrator’s personality

Is the passage of prose consistent with the narrator’s personality?

  • If not, it should probably be edited
  • If you aren’t sure, then you probably need to spend more time with your narrator (Check out this article!)

Voice decides what is said, what is left unsaid, and how it is said.

  • If it isn’t consistent, it’s worth double-checking
  • If it is consistent but you’re getting negative feedback, find out what overall flaw your critiquers are noticing. Maybe even give them a questionnaire to pinpoint the source of the problem.

Flaws don’t make good writing, so don’t ignore them. I hope this helps you on your writing journey! Comment below with the best writing tip you’ve received!

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