You probably hear all the time about authors and their ‘voices.’ It’s a hard thing to define, though with some authors it’s plainly obvious. There are certain authors whose books you could pick up, without knowing who wrote it, and be able to figure it out from the rhythm of the prose, the world building, and the tone of the story.
Voice can be a good or bad thing, depending on how it’s executed. If the author’s voice adds a richness to the story or a tone that’s particularly appealing (at least to most of their readers), but is so artfully done as not to be intrusive–it’s just the background noise of the story–that’s a good voice. But if the author intrudes so much they’re practically a character in the story, it can be distracting, overblown, and off-putting. We must be careful as writers to stay out of the spotlight and just pull the strings from the shadows, particularly if we have an artful way of pulling those strings. Voice is like adding spices to a sauce–if you add too much, you’ll ruin the dish.
How do you figure out what your own particular voice sounds like, though? Maybe you think you don’t have one, just like some people think they don’t have accents. Maybe you’re actively trying to cultivate a voice. For a long time I thought I didn’t have one, and feared my writing would be flat because of it. However, the more I write, and the more publishable stuff I write, the more I realize it’s there. Then, after being able to hear it, I fret that using my voice over and over will make my stories seem all the same and recycled. The natural state of the writer is to always think we’re doing something wrong, isn’t it?
You find your voice by writing. And writing some more. Just like you can’t learn to play a piece of music overnight, or perfect a dance routine, you can’t locate and hear your voice until you’ve practiced it a lot. You may find it hard to isolate, but eventually you’ll start to hear it. And then, you’ll probably start to worry that it’s a terrible, off-key voice, because that’s what writers do.
You also learn to notice the ‘voice’ in writing by reading. Especially if you read a certain author a lot, you’ll start to hear their voice. You may also pick up a book that has a voice too overbearing, or one you don’t like, and put it down. Reading will help you learn to find your own voice as much as writing will.
Sing, writers, sing!