Talking about Voice, part 1: What is it?

For those of you coming over here from Ink Pageant, I put in the wrong url over there. This is the post you want. Of course, this one is cool too...

Voice is the unicorn of writing.

Seriously. Everybody wants it, most people aren't sure what it looks like and it's rumored to have all kinds of magical powers.

Such as the ability to sparkle and to fight bulls that are MADE OF FIRE.

Voice trumps almost everything. But for such an important part of writing, it's very difficult to pin down. What IS voice exactly?

Webster's isn't very useful here. The closest definition that it has is this one :

Definition of VOICE

3: an instrument or medium of expression  

Wikipedia is closer, but still not much help.

Writer's voice is the literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author. Voice was generally considered to be a combination of a writer's use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works). 

Could that be more vague? (Answer: no.)

Here's what I think:

When we talk about voice, we're actually talking about two separate things: the voice of the writer and the voice of the character.

The voice of the writer you write. How you put sentences together, what kind of words you choose, how much description you use. We'll talk about that later in the series, but basically, it's something that only comes with practice. Much like being a graceful dancer.

found at
You gotta make it look easy.

The voice of the character is a bit different. It is (I believe) what many agents and editors talk about when they use the phrase "I loved the voice". It's what makes YOUR character sound unique, and therefore pulls the readers in.

The problem with trying to define voice is that it's such an abstract concept. So we're going to make it concrete. I'm going to SHOW you, using paragraphs from lots of different books and different authors exactly what we mean when we say voice.

(Or at any rate, what *I* mean when I say voice. As with everything else on the Internet, your mileage may vary.)

Any questions? How would you define voice?

You can find the rest of the voice series here: 
Talking about Voice, part 2: Three authors, three books
Talking about Voice, part 3: One author, three books
Talking about Voice, part 4: Viewpoint voices
Talking about Voice, part 5: Differences in character dialogue
Talking about Voice, part 6: Helpful links


  1. Miriam I'm so excited that you're doing this series. This is such a difficult topic to cover, and one that can't be covered enough.

  2. Yes yes! Please! I agree with you on voice being the combination of your style with your ability to capture the essence of your character. Can't wait to see the paragraphs you've chosen. I have one from a book that I have not read yet, but the first page is so wonderfully full of fabulous voice that I always think of it when I think of the elusive "voice".

  3. I'd agree that one of the best ways to describe voice is through examples. It's such an abstract concept, it's hard to confine it to a definition.

  4. Wow! Definitely looking forward to this! :D
    I'm glad you said that thing about a graceful dancer.... I do ballet, so that really resonated with me. Thanks a million for that.

  5. Megan- I'm actually a little intimidated. Hope it goes okay.... :)

    Corrine- This is why READING is so important to an author. Once you get a hold of some books with really good voices, it helps a lot.

    Joanne- True! Plus it gives me an excuse to plug some of my favorite books. *grin*

    Director- Hooray for dancing! I'm about as graceful as a hippopotamus, but I do like to dance. It's fun. :)

  6. Good job defining the two aspects of voice. Can't wait to see your examples. And I hope I get it more.

  7. Natalie- Thanks! The examples are going to be pretty awesome.

  8. Great description. I'm very interested to se the examples.


  9. I love that movie.

    Excellent point. :)

  10. I've found author's voice is what comes from you naturally. On top of that there's the historical voice, the contemp voice, the fantasy voice etc., all based on the way you naturally put words together, use expression, describe your characters. And most can't fake it. It's hard to turn a historical voice into a contempoary voice. And indeed voice is a difficult subject. You're so brave tackling it.


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