Ah, voice. That mysterious and sometimes elusive quality that everyone looks for in writing.
Agents and editors seek it and readers turn pages like crazy when it is present.
Your favorite blogs have it.
Your favorite characters have one.
Non-fiction books are written in specific voices, and magazines have a voice keyed to their demographic–O is written very differently than More, for instance, though some of their readers overlap.
So what, exactly, is voice?
Voice is your personality (or your character's) in words, on the page. It is the way you put words and sentences together, how you use grammar, if you use long sentences or short, staccato ones. Because of this, voice is sometimes called style. Whatever you call it, it is essential if you want to make your mark as a writer.
I've been thinking a lot about voice lately because I've been fooling around with a new novel. (Note, I'm not quite yet ready to claim that I'm actually writing one yet. Its just fooling around for now.) In the novel I just finished, the voice of Emma Jean, the protagonist and sole viewpoint character came to me the minute I started writing. She sprang forth through words in all her brash glory.
But this time around I'm not so lucky. My new protagonist is anything but shy, yet she is not revealing her voice to me quickly at all. Because of my experience with Emma Jean, I worried. Would this new character have an original, quirky voice or just be a dull person on the page?
However, bit by bit, her voice is starting to emerge. And I know why. Its because I have doggedly kept writing, even when the words seemed blah and I couldn't find a way to connect. I'm into the idea of this story and so I've kept going, even when I was totally uncertain the character would claim a voice. And slowly, it is beginning to come.
So here's what I think about discovering voice in your characters: its just like real life. Some characters will show themselves to you all at once, at least their superficial selves, and you'll be able to get their voice down on the page right away. And others will be just like those people you meet who reveal themselves slowly. If you want to find your voice, here's some help:
1. Keep writing.
2. Rewrite. Emma Jean's voice came out even stronger and clearer the more I rewrote the novel.
3. Write some more.
4. Rewrite some more.
5. Keep writing.
Because, really, the only way out is through. The only way to find out what you're writing about, or who you're writing about is to keep writing.
What are your experiences with voice in writing? And I'm curious about all of it–fiction, non-fiction, you name it.
*Photo by fresh-m, courtesy of Everystockphoto.