I have always been fascinated with the idea of voice in writing -- how one finds his or her own voice in non-fiction, but also how one develops various voices in fiction.
It’s a rare college freshman who has a voice, and it is a joy to find one midst all the academic writing I read. In fact, many of the students at the developmental level have no sense of audience yet and have not written enough to have developed a voice, and I usually have to spend so much time on audience that I rarely have a chance to discuss voice. On the rare occasions I have students who are developing their own voices, I point out what makes the writing uniquely theirs and praise them for being themselves.
Recently, I read a how-to book for fiction writers on voice and found it lacking in direction. The book is filled with excellent quotations from various authors who have clearly established a voice, but the book was no real help on how I could develop such powerful voices. It seemed as if the author of the book was saying what I often hear my fellow college professors say about voice: “I know it when I read it.” These same professors are quite vague when asked how to teach voice.
Most advice on the Internet on finding one’s own voice basically emphasizes the need to read and write a lot as if given enough time, one will discover one’s own voice. But I don’t just want my own voice, I want to create a variety of voices that convey the characters’ souls.
More specific advice is available on the Internet on how to develop a character’s voice by focusing on the style of language, mannerisms, and dialect. In one of my searches on voice, I found the best description of voice by a writer named Kat who says, “Voice is the lens through which the reader sees the story.” That lens is created through the author’s word choices, which serves as a reminder that every word matters.
Of course, when one considers voice, one has to consider point of view. Perhaps the easiest to write is first person, but it limits what can be revealed about the other characters. Third person allows for more creativity and perspectives. However, whenever I imagine writing in third person, I remember reading Hawthorne with his morals and lessons from his authorial third person point of view. I’m afraid my inner Hawthorne will creep into my writing when I attempt third person narratives. Fear aside, I must tackle this point of view.
I guess practice will give me control over the narrative and produce more compelling voices. Maybe time and practice are after all the most important ingredients in developing voice.