I've been collecting any articles I find on voice because of all the aspects of writing craft, this one is the most mysterious to me. I also struggle with the difference between writer's voice vs. character's voice. Writer's voice makes more sense to me with non-fiction; in fiction, your main characters' voices should be more of the focus, right (unless you are writing in the omniscient point of view, which is apparently out of style these days, unless you're Grisham, maybe). Is your writer's voice crucial to pulling off realistic character voices, too?
Here's an excerpt from the most recent article on writer's voice I've run across, from agent Rachelle Gardner's What is writer's voice?:
Your writer's voice is the expression of YOU on the page. It's that simple—and that complicated. Your voice is all about honesty. It's the unfettered, non-derivative, unique conglomeration of your thoughts, feelings, passions, dreams, beliefs, fears and attitudes, coming through in every word you write.... It's a process of peeling away the layers of your false self, your trying-to-be-something-you're-not self, your copycat self, your trying-to-sound-a-certain-way self, your spent-my-life-watching-television self.Rachelle asked "what are some ways you find your unique writer's voice?" From the comments, I found some patterns pop out with the methods that people use. Here's what I learned. I hope it's okay to reprint some of the comments (attributed, of course) and to give them my own labels!
The brute force method:
Finding your voice is a lot...(a LOT) of really, really, really bad free-writing and first drafts. (Kellye Parish)
Write. Everyday, all the time. Write about the weather, the funny man on the corner, your boss. Write about that idea where people's heads turn into eggplants. Write articles, diaries, fiction, poetry. (Mesmerix)
The "go back to your roots" method:
When I reach back to the unique events that defined me, my voice comes roaring back. Because I'm already so familiar with what happened, I can use this writing to push my voice to the forefront. This allows me to go back to work with my voice all warmed up. (Ida M. Olson)
The "love that feeling" method:
As my husband or critique partner read my manuscript, I notice when they love certain chapters or sections of the story and when they don't love certain sections as much. And when I go back through those sections, I realize that those chapters sound like... well, me. This goes for blogging as well. I think the blog posts that are an honest portrayal of me and my passions, I hear my own voice. The trick, now, is to make sure that passion and self comes out in everything I write not just certain sections of it. (Heather Sunseri)
I know that I have found my voice when I re-read what I have written and it makes me laugh, cry, or feel some sort of emotion. (Teenage Bride)
The "experimental" method:
One thing that helped me find the voice I didn't know I had was writing in a different tense. When I switched to present tense, what a difference! For other writers, it might be a change of genre that brings out their voice. I think it might be like using a different filter in photography. Sometimes the one you use the least can make the colors pop. (Debbie Maxwell Allen)
The "find your vision/view" method:
Voice... is about two things: your vision of the world (that is, what's outside of you), and your ability to communicate that vision in language. You can find your vision of the world by doing a lot of writing, even more reading--and by thinking about how you see things. (Barbara Baig)
If we describe our mind's view in words, then we have found our voice. (David Amburgey)
The "non-conformist" method:
We all have a somewhat unique voice, but for it to be unique enough to stand out comes from the attitude of the author. If you want a unique voice you’ve got to blow everyone else off and be a nonconformist. (Timothy Fish)
Here's a bunch of other articles on voice I've collected over the past few months.
the Write Power: Finding your voice Helpful variations of the ones described above.
Livia Blackburne: Voice finding techniques. More suggestions.
Janice Hardy (Storyflip): some simple help for voice. This one helps you strengthen voice while you are editing.
Chip MacGregor: Finding your writing voice. Suggests imitating others to start with (though most will tell you NOT to do this!)
Men with Pens: Finding your writing voice. Includes nine different exercises to try! I'm slowly working my way through them.
Nathan Bransford: How to craft great voice. In response to one of the comments, Nathan also gives good advice on how you know WHEN you've found your voice: "I think voice is there when it's adjustable. Can you dial up or down certain elements? Can you hear it in your head? In other words, is it enough of an entity that you can think of it apart from the elements it's describing?"
So now that I've regurgitated all sorts of information I've discovered, here's my one teeny tiny experience with searching for voice that actually resulted in success.
Go back and read the stuff you never intended for anyone to read. The parts where I'm venting about something are the best, and likewise when my character is venting about something that's when I get the strongest voice.
Ha ha, not sure what that says about me as a person? Never mind. In my next blog, I'm going to VENT!
And if that doesn't work, I'm going to over-caffeinate myself into hyperactivity and then strap myself to my chair and see what happens if there is a keyboard close enough to reach. I like to think that's how T.H. Mafi developed her voice.
Planning to post more on character voice soon. In the meantime, if you've made it this far through my writing voice voyage, I plead with you, I BEG of you, if you have any opinions on voice (the written kind), please share them with me!