Voice is one of those things that everyone agrees is really important, but no one can define really well. The best and worst definition I’ve come across is that voice is what makes you you. It’s the elements of your style, themes, grammar, character, choices, etc. etc. that make your writing unique. It’s everything and it’s nothing. Concrete, but ethereal. Chuck Wendig tried to break it down a while back.
For example, Stephen King is known for his voice. Sort of folksy, with vulgar flourishes and lots of references to music and movies. I would argue that even the translation of Haruki Murakami has a strong voice. His whimsy, the pointedness of his sentences, the normal characters thrown into fantastic situations, the Western allusions in an Eastern style. You know a Murakami book when you pick one up.
I don’t have a good understanding of my voice. There have been lots of times when I thought I knew, but would then be confronted with something that proved me otherwise. So, I asked a professional editor if she could describe it for me. This is what she said, paraphrased: “Your writing didn’t strike me as particularly voicey. I think that’s good. When I think of really voicey prose, this isn’t that. What you’re doing is worth publishing, good enough to query, but I think your voice is still in development.”
What I found interesting about that response is the idea that a voice doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Mr. Wendig up there points out that there is often a fine line between strong voice and bad writing, and I think that’s sort of what the editor is touching on. My writing style–my voice, as it were–is unobtrusive at this point in my development. Which is helpful to know as I’m working on honing those aspects of my personality and obsessions that will ultimately make my voice wholly me.
One thing that I think shows up in my writing without my necessarily meaning it to is a really dry, almost unintentional sense of humor. The novella that I had edited leans into that a bit more, but I remember in a writing group a few years ago someone told me they found my story hilarious. This was news to me, as I had meant to write a serious, dramatic science fiction story. But, on revisiting the story through his eyes I absolutely saw what struck him as funny. Even though what I was writing about was serious, the way I wrote about it acknowledged and even pointed out the ridiculousness of the situation. Sort of a wink to the reader to say, “This shit ain’t normal, is it? What is even happening?”
And you know what? I kind of like that. Storytelling is inherently silly, especially in the oral tradition. We create exaggerated versions of ourselves, step outside of who we are, to entertain and inform. That’s fun.
So, I think that’s an aspect of my voice I want to continue developing. I’ve also started to notice reoccurring themes (obsessions) in my writing that might be an aspect of my voice. Things like what governments are and how they should interact with citizens, death and its repercussions, fathers and sons, and deferred dreams.
Maybe one day I’ll have a firm grasp on what makes my writing unique to me. The only way to do that is to pump out words and then sift through the mess until patterns arise. Eventually that mess could coalesce into something more, and that something will be me.