Voice, in writing, is the way you use words to express yourself. It’s your personality coming through your writing. It’s also the way you see the world. Hemingway was bold and daring. He loved to throw himself into adventure. Jane Austen’s writing is formal and circuitous and full of propriety.
What if you’re not bold and daring or formal? How do you define your voice? Let’s look at the 3 key areas: personality, style, and authenticity.
Personality comes through in your narrative and your dialogue. Your thoughts or your characters’ thoughts about religion, politics, marriage, divorce, drugs, and other hot topics will spark opinionated views. You think and believe because of your outlook on life. Because of your opinions. Because of your personality.
Personality is also about values, how you or your characters act, both in the normal world and in extreme situations. Do you argue with people, get in fights, refuse to see another person’s perspective? Or do you agree with everyone to keep the peace? Maybe you’re in between the two. Is your character a goody two-shoes, an evil villain, moral, immoral, or amoral? These are all personality facets that make you and your characters interesting and quirky.
The second key is style. Style is like fashion sense. It’s the way you “dress” your words, how you phrase your ideas. Big words and lengthy sentences will attract the academic or literary crowd. If you’re more direct or conversational, you’ll attract more commercial readers who like faster-paced
books. Choice of words—slang, jargon, modern vocabulary vs. archaic terms—is also important.
It’s also about rhythm and cadence. How your words flow. How they sound to the ear. Even though you read with your eyes, you hear the words in your head. Are they smooth? Or harsh? Even? Or abrupt? Be aware of rhythm as you read. Pay attention to the sound of other authors’ words. You’ll start noticing the “flavor” of their writing.
The third key takes a deeper look inside you, the author. Authenticity is about being real. Allowing others to see you. What are you all about? How do you come across? Are you gentle, compassionate, and encouraging? Or are you demanding, impatient, and forceful? Or some of this and some of that?
Here are four examples of opening paragraphs that demonstrate different voices.
Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
This paragraph is one LONG sentence that takes up a lot of space. Wordy was the accepted style of writing in that time.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were
all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kid
Her long, descriptive sentences capture mood and personal feeling. A good example of literary writing.
“At night I would lie in my bed and watch the show, how bees squeezed through the cracks of my bedroom wall and flew circles around the room, making that propeller sound, a high-pitched zzzzzz that hummed along my skin. I watched their wings shining like bits of chrome in the dark and felt the longing build in my chest. The way those bees flew, not even looking for a flower, just flying for the feel of the wind, split my heart down its seam.”
Spellbound by Nora Roberts
Her romantic style evokes feeling and visual images through just a few words.
“Love. My love. Let me into your dreams. Open your heart again and hear me. Calin, I need you so. Don’t turn from me now, or all is lost. I am lost. Love. My love.”
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
His fast-paced down-to-earth voice feels like you’re talking to a good friend.
“Look, I didn’t want to a half-blood. If you’re reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life.”
Now that you’ve read some examples and you know the three keys that make up voice, how would you define yours? Will the real you please stand up?