Voice in fiction is a term poorly defined. What does it mean? Style? Subject matter? Sensibility? World view? All of the above? Whatever it means editors, agents and readers all want it.
The thing is, every novelist already has a voice. It may be comic, deadpan, dry, pulpy, shrill, objective, distant, intimate, arty or a thousand other things. It comes through in the story that an author chooses to tell and the way in which they choose to tell it.
Why then do editors constantly say to me they are seeking writers with a “voice.” Aren’t they already getting that?
Clearly not—not enough of that, anyway. Attached to the word “voice,” I frequently hear the adjective “strong.” Editors are looking for authors with a “strong voice.”
The issue in most manuscripts, then, is not whether the author has a voice but whether they are using it to maximum effect. Does the language of the novel light it up? Does the story stab our hearts? Does its passion grip us? Do we see the world in new ways?
The answer in many, many cases is no. Beginners write timidly; but then, so can those who’ve spent a while knocking at the door. Advanced beginners sometime write what they believe the market wants, not what is original, personal, authentic and passionate.
Published authors have their problems with voice too. Did you ever suspect that a favorite author has begun to imitate himself? Then you know what I mean.
So how can you make sure your voice is getting through? Speak up. Louder. Insist on being heard. Writing safe means writing small. I’m pretty sure the storyteller inside you has a lot to say. How are you going to make sure we hear you say it?
Photo courtesy Flickr’s suneko