“Voice” is one of those elusive concepts.
When writers talk about someone with a particularly strong “voice,” they tend to talk with a mixture of envy and awe. Reviewers do it too – think about how many times you’ve read the phrase, “a daring, original voice” in a breathless piece about an exceptional debut novel.
For me, a strong “voice” means I’m in good storytelling hands. “Voice” is another way of saying strong, confident writing.
It’s writing with personality.
And for many writers, it’s one of the most difficult skills to cultivate, probably because it rests on a foundation of style, authority and consistency.
If you read Push, you’ll remember that despite the bleak circumstances of her life, the optimism of the main character came through. Sapphire, the author, told her story in a way that made the realities of Precious’ life plain, but with a voice that spoke of hope and possibility.
A book I return to over and over for a strong dose of voice is Bridget Jones’ Diary, an updated version of Pride & Prejudice whose main character has such a strong voice, telling us her story with a mixture of humour, exasperation and a kind of endearing bewilderment. It doesn’t take many pages before you can hear Bridget’s voice in your head, before you can start to picture Bridget in any situation and know instinctively how she’d respond.
J.K. Rowling’s voice is one of wonder and warmth. While the arc of the Harry Potter novels gets darker, more sinister and grown-up, Rowling’s voice remains constant. As Harry’s world changes, she keeps us grounded in the character of his world, with a voice that’s both enthusiastic and empathetic.
When I need to a dose of lyricism in my own writing, I read Fugitive Pieces for inspiration. I love this book, the poet’s sense of prose coming through in every line. I love the sensuality of Anne Michaels’ voice. Her voice is complex, resulting in writing that is extremely visual and somewhat challenging. And for me, delicious.
Start to really tune in to voice as you’re reading. Sometimes it’s tough to do – a great voice transports you so thoroughly into the story. But try to watch for those moments, those turns of phrase, that say “voice.”
Take another look at your own manuscript. Is there a voice coming through? Is there a certain sensibility to your writing that travels the length of your story?
This comes down to trust. Trust yourself and your writing. Let your voice into your work.
(photo courtesy of Snapwiresnaps)