>How It Works For Me
A few years ago when I first heard the new NBC Nightly News theme. I immediately turned to my husband and said that John Williams (Jaws, Star Wars, ET, Indiana Jones movies, etc.) had composed the piece. My husband told me I was nuts. So I patiently waited until the end of the news program (forcing the DH to watch with me). I remember going “HA! I told you it was his music” when Williams’ name rolled through the credits. Voice works the same way in books. There’s something distinct and unique about every author, although there are some authors who have a stronger voice than others.
Who, What and Why
Because of a recent discussion I read elsewhere I got to thinking about voice. What is it? Is it subjective? Why does it matter? Who decides what the components of voice are? In the discussion I was reading there were some pretty strong disagreements with regard to the answers for all the questions I just posed.
Voice is probably a subjective thing because people look at things differently. While people might agree on one or two aspects of an author’s voice they might not really be able to define it. So asking what is it is almost impossible to answer. That much is evident to me based on the harsh exchanges on the discussion I read. People clearly have different opinions on WHAT voice is.
For me, voice is exactly what it says. It’s the voice of the author. It’s that part of an author’s writing that instantly makes me recognize who she is even if I were to pick up a book without her name on it and just start reading. A good example of this is J.R. Ward. When I read her first Black Dagger Brotherhood book, I knew I’d read her work before, yet the book was the very first in a new paranormal series. After a little research I discovered that she’d been published in the historical genre and I’d read one of her books.
That’s how I define voice. In my mind it’s that distinct style, flair, unique sound that makes an author’s work instantly recognizable even in a different genre. Now while some people will immediately and vehemently protest the use of the word style, I’ll simply state that for me style means the way the writer’s words flow across the pages. It may or may not mean the use of certain words, phrases or stylistic uses of craft. It simply means the way the author utilizes all of those things to form a distinct sound that emanates from their writing. Style is deeply integrated and entwined with a writer’s distinct flair. Flair being the personality of the author and how the characters in their head come out and express themselves.
How Important Is It?
I think voice is critical in a number of ways. An editor has to fall in love with your voice, not just your story. I’ve learned this the hard way. The same goes for an agent, but most importantly, it’s the reader who has to fall in love with the author’s voice. It’s part of what keeps them coming back for more. It’s not just the characters and the stories, it’s HOW the writer’s voice puts those things on the page.
As for Who decides what voice is? Again I think it’s subjective. Whoever posts here may or may not agree with me, which is fine. That’s why I’m certain it’s subjective. How voice evolves, changes, exists will differ from person to person. It’s like one of those lines writers HATE to hear from an editor. “I’ll know it when I see it.” In other words, a definition isn’t completely clear, but if an editor, agent or reader loves, it does it really matter? Nope, it’s when they hate a writer’s voice that it’s a problem.