The Importance of Voice

As I have been making my way through my October Madness, I’ve had some things I’ve suspected about myself as a writer clarified.  One, I deeply underestimate my ability to be creative and have allowed that to be a roadblock towards producing.  Two, voice is vitally important.

What is voice?  Voice is the language and cadence used when you tell a story.  In first-person or close third-person it is often the voice the viewpoint character.  The way voice is used can significantly add to the believability and realism of the character as well as letting the reader feel like they know this character.  They can hear the way they think.  If you do it right, they can begin to guess at what a character might say, or see, or notice.

There is also authorial voice.  I don’t feel comfortable to address authorial voice, beyond saying that with some authors you can tell their writing any time, anywhere.  I do not believe that I have mastered authorial voice, nor am I entirely sure that I want to.  But character voice–narrative voice–is what makes the difference in my work between what is pedestrian and what is compelling.

When I am writing, if I can fall into a voice, it will draw me forward into the story in a way that straightforward telling does not.  It’s almost like theater–the difference between performing the words of a script and becoming the person behind them.

I’ve done a decent amount of theater in my day, mostly musicals.  I have often had major roles, because I am a good singer.  When I’ve had those roles, I have certainly done my best.  I’ve tried to be the character, and I’ve done a good approximation of it.  What taught me the difference between that and what actually being a character can be was when I was in a non-musical play, cast into a small role that was on stage, not speaking, for nearly the entirety of an act.  What would this person do when standing around not really doing anything for half an hour?  What would she notice?  What would draw her eye?  What would she think about?

In that time, I was deeper inside my character than I ever was in a lead role.  I think that’s what I need to transport to my writing.  The author is not the lead role.  The author doesn’t need to twinkle and shine.  The author needs to step back and let the characters talk.  That’s where the magic happens.

One thought on “The Importance of Voice

  1. Good thoughts. You're getting the hang of it. Author voice, however, unlies everything I think. You might want to read Author Unknown which is about literary forensics, an absolutely fascinating field. It broadened my understanding of authorial voice.

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