It’s a lot easier to understand what our voice is as a writer if we first look at its components. I see four elements that comprise a writer’s voice.
Personality: Each person has a personality, how we act, appear, and relate to others. Likewise, each writer has a personality, how we come across to our readers. Our writing personality might be distant or accessible, easy to read or guarded, open or closed, formal or informal, and so on.
Style: Closely related to personality is style. Our personal style is how we dress, groom, and carry ourselves. Style is about presentation. Writing style is about sentence length, word choice, paragraph structure, and grammar. Some styles are glitz with little substance, while other styles may appear plain but have depth. Some styles look nice and are packed with significance. Some writers follow all the writing conventions (“rules”) and others bend or break them at every opportunity – that is their style. Writing in the active voice or the passive voice is also part of our style.
Technique: How we write also affects our voice. Writers who outline before writing have a different voice than writers who wait for inspiration and then write not knowing where the words will take them. Some writers mull ideas over before typing, while others process as they work. Some wordsmiths follow a strict writing schedule and others write whenever they can fit it in – producing different results in the process. Some authors start with the end and then work to get there, while others don’t know the end until they arrive.
A final consideration of technique is editing. Editing can merely tighten up our work or editing can actually change our voice. My edited work is often less formal and wordy than the first draft. For others, editing does the opposite, placing structure around their free-flowing text.
Audience: A final consideration of voice is audience. As writers we don’t – or shouldn’t – have just one voice but instead offer variations as appropriate. Just as we act differently at work than at home, at church than at the game, with friends than with strangers, or at a fancy restaurant than at a barbeque, so too with writing. A children’s book needs a different voice than a research paper, a novel sounds different than a personal essay, and a romance doesn’t flow like speculative fiction. While our default voice may be beneath each one, we tweak it and control it for each situation, keeping some aspects in check, while emphasizing others. Finally, just as we may feel uneasy in some social situations, we may be uncomfortable writing for some audiences or genres. The key in both situations is not to let it show.
Our writing voice is made up of our writing personality, style, technique, and audience. Next week, I’ll share ideas of how to find our voice.
What is your writing voice like?