Voice is, essentially, the sound of a story. It’s an innate, recognizable part of who we are. We can’t create it or force it. Our voice just is. Of course, we can temper or encourage it, but only as far as our experience and personality allows.
Author Lisa Carter, in a recent blog for Novel Rocket, suggests that “Your voice is defined by what you have to say and how you choose to say it.”
About six years ago now, I wrote a blog on the subject of voice. Here’s the essence of the article:
“While visiting my newly born grandchild back in 2009, I snuck away to the bedroom with him so we could talk privately. After all, a grandma has to get to know her little ones. I lay on the bed with six-week old Jordy and began to talk to him. He fixed his eyes on mine, connecting with my soul. He watched my face, and my mouth, and then his mouth began to move. He struggled to make a sound, and when he did, we celebrated. He had found his voice.
I made a similar connection with my granddaughter, Sydney, born two weeks after Jord. She also wanted to express herself to me, and when she was successful she wiggled with pleasure.
As writers, we talk about “voice” and wonder what it is. Is voice something we create or something we discover? Jordy and Sydney taught me that “voice” is who we are. Jordy’s cry was squeaky and pitiful (it has since developed into a confident and continual chatter). Sydney’s was loud and demanding (I now interpret it as determined. She is the fourth sibling in her family, after all.). Neither baby decided what he or she would sound like. They are who they are. We each have our own voice, are born with it in its raw form. This is the voice we eventually use for speaking and writing.
Voice is not something we create; it’s in all of us. It’s who we are, expressed in words, or the equivalent of words for the pre-speech set. We all have thoughts and feelings and ideas that long to be expressed, but they do not always come easily. Consider how varied the stages of development are from baby to baby. Some, very early in their lives, jabber in an alien tongue. Others refrain from speaking until they are older and then launch out in full sentences. Neither is right nor wrong; each is unique.
Once we discover our voice, we are responsible for developing it by using it. Find some of your earliest writings and read them over. Unless you were especially gifted, the early writings seem weak and unformed. As you grow and experience life, as you struggle to express yourself, your voice, both spoken and written, grows stronger.”
Just as I will not mistake Sydney for Jordy when I hear their voices, so we would not confuse writing by Mark Twain with that of Edgar Allen Poe. Not only are their content and method vastly different, but their approach to life and writing, their “worldview,” if you will, is at polar opposites.
As Lisa Carter states in the above-cited article, there are several considerations that affect voice, including our chosen genre, our expected audience, and the culture/country we have grown up in.
Authors open themselves up to vulnerability when they write. Our voice will be revealed as our story unfolds. Allen Arnold, in an article written for Novel Rocket, suggests that we need to remember to live in order to write, and I believe our voice will change and grow as we adapt to our circumstances, just as Jordy’s voice will someday break as he adjusts to adolescence.
I find that as I continue to read and become aware of other voices, my own writing voice may take on the accent of an author whose work I especially admire. Then, as I write, that voice will blend with mine. It’s not copying; it’s emulation, and that’s perfectly acceptable. We must allow ourselves to be who we are, to write what we are passionate about, to discover and develop our own recognizable and distinctive voice.