When a new writer asks about voice, I always feel myself hesitate before I respond. What does she want to know? Is the talking about character voice? Author voice? The tone of an individual piece of writing? Because voice is all of this and much, much more.
This past weekend at the Missouri SCBWI Advanced Writers Retreat Taylor Norman of Chronicle Books took us through a session on voice. The first thing that she did in this session may have been the most important. She helped us realize just how complicated the voice of a work can be because all of these elements can play a part:
- The author’s voice.
- The character’s voice.
- The narrator’s voice.
- The voice of the person narrating the audio book.
- The voice of the librarian reading it aloud.
This is only a fraction of the things on her list which was probably about twenty items long. Even this abbreviated list can help you see how and why this topic is so complex and so very difficult to discuss.
First things first, fix your voice as the author. How your writing sounds will depend on a variety of factors. Where and when did you grow up? This will influence many of the words and phrases that you use — ice box vs refrigerator, pollywog vs tadpole. Next comes your level of education and your field. Even when writing fiction, an astrophysicist with a Ph.D. will write very differently from a philosophy major with a bachelor’s degree. Other things that factor in include your hobbies because relevant terms will find their way into your vocabulary.
Now what about your character’s voice? In my current fiction wip, my main character is a 12 year-old girl who is a mechanical marvel. Her voice is very different from either of her brothers. The youngest is 9 and adores animals. The oldest is 21 and a veteren. Think about how different each of these character’s would speak.
That is their character voice which is influenced by my voice which may, one day, be influenced by the voices of the people reading it aloud. Its almost more than a body can wrap her head around.