What is Voice in Literature?

Ask any agent or editor what they’re looking for in a writer and they’ll say “a fresh, new voice.” But then ask that same agent or editor what voice is and they’ll probably look at you for a second before saying, “I know it when I see it.” Honestly. That’s the standard answer. So a few weeks ago, I set out to discover what exactly voice is.

 

The first thing I did was a Google search. I didn’t find a single, helpful thing. Hmm… I then read every writing guide with a section on voice, as well as analyzing novels that are described as having good voices. Here’s what I think:

 

There are two parts to voice: 1. the author’s voice and 2. the character’s voice. In most books the two are probably equally important, except for in YA novels. I feel that the character’s voice becomes more important, especially in novels that are written in first person. Now that I think about it, I suppose the character’s voice is most important in ALL first-person novels.

 

The author’s voice is the style in which one writes. For example, Nora Roberts writes in lush, descriptive, and lyrical sentences. I could pick up any one of her romance novels and almost immediately identify her as the author. Earnest Hemmingway writes with short, concise, and to the point sentences. Same goes for his books. Janet Evanovich’s voice in her Stephanie Plum books is fast, fun, funny, and a little racy. These are their author’s voices.

 

The character’s voice is basically how the main character views the world. What words do they use when talking, or describing things? How does the character speak (short, breathless sentences, or long, rambling ones)? What are the character’s emotions and how do they describe or show them? How might they compare one thing to another?  For example, an older person might compare a bright sunset to a bomb bursting over his aircraft carrier during the Second World War, whereas a teenager might compare it to the flash of fire in her boyfriend’s eyes.

 

As far as I can determine, these are the things that make up voice, and the things editors and agents are looking for. I hope this helps!

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6 thoughts on “What is Voice in Literature?

  1. Interesting post. I wonder if the author’s voice could be summed up by its tone? Warm, snarky, etc. I tend to think of style as grammatical choices, but you’re right, style can also be warm, snarky, etc.

    Re character voices, check out Voice Week:
    http://voiceweek.wordpress.com/

    The challenge was to change the voice every day for a week…difficult but highly instructive, Robin

    • I think tone is definitely part of voice, but by no means the only part. I think when agents or editors talk about voice; they mean the elements that make up that author’s particular project: style, tone, word choice, sentence construction, setting, dialogue, etc. It is also some intangible quality, that certain spark that draws a reader in and keeps them entranced until they turn the last page!

  2. Pingback: Two Blog Awards in one day: 7X7 and The Versatile Blogger | The Literary Mom

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