Have you ever had difficulty conceptualizing the writing term “voice”? I hear about it all the time “looking for a fresh voice...” and “be careful not to edit out voice!” I realized - if I’m going to be a writer, I had better figure it out! So what is it, exactly?
To what I can make out, it is the personality of the character. Our style of writing reflects the character’s beliefs, values, age, morals, outlook on life and the world in which they are living and reacting. Essentially it is their worldview, and it comes to life in the words.
Voice can be seen in the way the words flow, the style of speech (slang, vocabulary), and the “feel” of the character’s inner cognitive processes. Voice is unique, just as every human being is unique. Characters have individuality and idiosyncrasies that make them who they are. When reading, the reader can immediately enter the character’s individual mindset as well as catapult directly into their world.
So how do we know if our character’s found voice? We should begin by looking within ourselves – to our own beliefs, fears, hopes and dreams. We insert some of our own personalities into our characters and inject a little piece of ourselves into voice. And that makes it authentic.
Sometimes we notice a voice more because it abhors us. The one that stands out for me the most is Zoey, from the House of Night series:
Just when I thought my day couldn’t get any worse I saw the dead guy standing next to my locker. Kayla was talking nonstop in her usual K-babble, and she didn’t even notice him. At first. Actually, now that I think about it, no one else noticed him until he spoke, which is, tragically, more evidence of my freakish inability to fit in.
That first paragraph rubbed me the wrong way - all I can think of is snotty. The character seemed falsely teen, and I felt like the author was trying too hard to sound ‘cool’, and failed miserably. I closed the book, permanently.
Conversely, a voice I fell in love with immediately:
The sound of the front door slamming echoed up the stairs and a voice yelled, ‘Oi! You!’ Sixteen years of being addressed thus left Harry in no doubt whom his uncle was calling; nevertheless, he did not immediately respond.
Harry Potter, of course! This is a smart, well-educated teen, with an attitude and a mind of his own! He doesn’t bend to anybody, especially his disrespectful uncle. What teen wouldn’t connect with that?
Another voice that I think is worth discussing is Bella, who has somehow connected with zillions of teenage girls (and the majority of their mothers as well):
I was sure I looked exactly the same as I had in Phoenix. Maybe it was just that the boys back home had watched me pass slowly through all the awkward phases of adolescence and still thought of me that way. Perhaps it was because I was a novelty here, where novelties were few and far between. Possibly my crippling clumsiness was seen as endearing rather than pathetic, casting me as a damsel in distress. Whatever the reason, Mike’s puppy dog behaviour and Eric’s apparent rivalry with him were disconcerting. I wasn’t sure if I didn’t prefer being ignored.
Bella’s self-deprecating style is instantly identifiable, and I think the majority of teenage girls feel that way – body issues, wanting to just blend in, and confusion over their newfound sexuality. It works because it intimately touches girls’ inner thoughts and feelings, and makes them feel connected to the character, and thus normalizes their own experience.
What voices stand out for you – good or bad – I’d love to hear about it!