Voice can be an elusive concept but we tend to throw the term around freely.
We’re looking for a fresh voice.
It’s important to develop your voice.
We also hide it in the middle of a list of similarly vague terms.
Pay attention to the tone, mood, voice and style.
Make sure your style, tone and voice are consistent.
What is voice? Ask half a dozen writers and you could get at least six different answers.
I am giving you mine. I have two – the author’s voice and the character’s voice.
THE AUTHOR’S VOICE
The easiest way for me to define the author’s voice is with a visual.
Let’s pretend your story is a stack of pancakes. The ingredients you put into your pancakes – flour, egg, milk, salt,
butter (blueberries?) – are the elements of your story. You combine plot, characters, dialogue, setting, conflict and
resolution and throw the mixture into a pan, a little at a time. It cooks; you turn, fiddle and adjust the heat. When they
are golden brown and your mouth is watering, you flip them onto a plate and admire the steaming stack. Your story
is complete. Or is it?
You take your first bite, expecting culinary perfection. It’s okay, but something’s missing.
Voice is the rich, delicious syrup that soaks into the crevices and the pores of your story and flavours the entire
Three tips for finding your author’s voice
Be yourself. Your voice is your personality. It’s how you creep into your stories and become familiar to your
readers. This may have to do with the topics you choose to write about, your structure, characters, language or
even settings. Your voice is as unique as you are.
Choose topics or storylines that are important to you. Avoid writing a book because it’s a hot topic and you think it
might sell. If you have no interest in werewolves, don’t even try it. They will not cooperate. If small aliens and their
quest to levitate bore you, run away. It won’t work for you.
If, however, you have dreamt about a fantasy world where children are in charge, adults follow orders and dopey St.
Bernards take care of all menial labour, create it. If it means something to you and you love the story, the concept
and the possibilities, dive in. You have found something you can be passionate about and it will be apparent in your
Write as you speak. This can be difficult at first and often intimidating, but trust yourself. You are the only person
who can write like you.
A great way to practice this is with free writing. Write for at least ten minutes a day. Let your thoughts pour onto the
page without censure, editing or even spellchecking. Your quest is not to find correctness, but your voice. You may
write in short bursts of emotion or with languid thoughts leading lazily into the next. Your writing will be unfettered
with insecurity or fear as no one will ever see this. The more you practice, the stronger your voice will become.
Speak to your audience. Once you’ve found your voice, it’s important to be able to alter it slightly to suit your
You probably wouldn’t write a letter to your in-law’s like this:
Thanks for the shirt.
Your twelve year old daughter might be a little confused if you left the following note on the fridge.
Dear Ms Harth,
Please find your lunch in the refrigerator and your bus money on the bench. I shall have transportation waiting for
you in the agreed upon place, subsequent to your final class.
These are fairly extreme examples of altering a voice and usually your changes will be more subtle. But even though
you may modify your writing according to varying age and interest groups, your voice can still ring true.
A CHARACTER’S VOICE
When I finally started to develop my author’s voice, I was thrilled. But my journey was far from over. It was time to
work on my characters’ voices. My voice, as comfortable as I was with it, was not appropriate for an eight-year-old
boy with a passion for soccer. If I didn’t want all of my young characters to sound like a middle aged woman, I had to
back off and let them have their heads. I was still telling the story but I was telling it through the eyes of the main
Two tips for finding your character’s voice
Know your character. To engage your reader, it’s important to create a three-dimensional and appealing main
character. How about Evelyn? A good place to start is to get to know Evelyn as well or even better than you know
yourself. Interview her and write down her answers to your questions, keeping them for future reference.
Ask about family, friends, home. Discover her insecurities and fears but also her dreams and wishes. Walk through
a day with Evelyn. Eat breakfast with her, recite nursery rhymes in the shower, feed the dog and chase the cat.
Feed the cat and chase the dog. Hang out with this character over a few days and find out what makes her laugh
and cry and go weak at the knees.
As you get to know Evelyn, imagine her voice inside your head. Get her to write a letter or two and write as she
speaks. When her voice is clearly in your mind, you will be able to integrate this into your story – her story.
Write through your main character’s viewpoint. Once you and Evelyn have become bosom-buddies, step aside
and make some room for her. Make sure that your readers can see, hear and experience only what Evelyn does.
Put them firmly inside Evelyn’s mind to share her thoughts and impressions. This will invite your readers to identify
closely with Evelyn and care about her. If they care about her, they will become more involved in the story.
A FINAL WORD
So what is voice?
Voice is a tool that conveys the personality of a writer or character.
How do you develop a strong and unique voice?
Be yourself. No one else can.
Voice -Vague but Vital