In brief, an author’s voice is the unique combination of literary elements that makes his stories “feel” different from everyone else’s. Components of writing that help define voice are syntax, character development dialogue, word choice, dialect, punctuation, sentence length, and even formatting.
“Voice” is sometimes used interchangeably with broad concepts like style, diction, and tone, but it’s really an amalgamation of all three, and more.
The Differences Between Voice and Style, Diction, Tone
Wheaton College defines an author’s style:
Style is the way in which something is written, as opposed to the meaning of what is written. In writing, however, the two are very closely linked.
Diction, on the other hand, is word choice, including considerations of literal meanings and connotations. One author might describe a business man as frugal, for example, while another might describe the same man as miserly. The difference in word choice can affect the overall tone of the piece.
Tone, in turn, is the attitude or mood set by the author in an individual piece of writing. Tone could be objective or subjective, friendly or angry, cool or warm. Authors generally attempt to match the tone of their work to the subject matter and the station of the narrator.
If a murder mystery is penned from the point of view of the killer, for instance, the tone might be intimate or angry or guilty. If the same story were told from an investigator’s POV, though, the tone is more likely to be detached and objective.
Voice is a fusion of all these factors and many others.
It is the sum total of how an author speaks to his audience through his work. While voice will vacillate to varying degrees over time, authors tend to converge on a consistent voice as they mature.
Finding Your Author’s Voice
Finding your own author’s voice is tricky business.
To start, you’re going to have some voice from the moment you first put pen to paper.
Most likely that voice will have grown from your everyday life and will be influenced heavily by the authors you have read and loved in the past. Going back to read your early work several years down the line will often reveal a disjointed voice that you may not even recognize as your own.
But as you write more consistently, you will settle on diction and other elements of prose that fit you and your storytelling. And, as Roz Morris and Joanna Penn discussed recently, you can actively shape your voice by striving to emulate — at least to some degree — those very authors who were formative to your literary propensities.
When you find a style or device that resonates with you, try it out in your own writing. If you like it, keep using it. If not, jettison it.
Over time, your unique, authentic voice will emerge.
What about you? Have you found your author’s voice? If not, what are you doing to develop it? Let me know in the comments below.