You’ve put the words to paper but it’s your writing voice that gives them soul. This voice is your unique identity, one that is distinct and personal to every writer. This voice is the one that will ring in a reader's head while it flows. A writer’s voice is personality--it is style and attitude coming together to create an entity. A voice is how you use your words--it’s a punctuation mark here or use of slang there, it’s pretty prose or a melodic rhythm.
You could have a great plot in mind, rich with all the perfect techniques of storytelling, but if your voice fails to vividly bring this plot to life, your efforts will sit solemnly on a shelf collecting dust. The feelings and voice you infuse into your prose are as important as the brilliance of the story.
Whose Voice is it?
Writing voices vary: PG Wodehouse is witty and layered. Listicles are chatty and snackable. Self-help blogs are inspirational. While talented writers will be able to invoke the’ idea’ of a character’s individual voice by changing tone or using slang or colloquialisms, the writer’s voice never really changes.
For example, Harry Potter begins as a third-person narrative. It introduces the character and setting. As the characters interact, we get exposed to their personal ‘voices.’ While Dumbledore is assuring and gentle, Professor McGonagall is crisp and firm. Hermione's voice starts off sounding pompous and controlling and evolves to self-assured and warm. Ron is always casual and funny. Harry Potter is humble, sometimes confused and imperfect--which is what makes him so relatable.
While these characters appear to have their own “voices,” if you look closely you will see that the writer’s voice permeates and is consistent throughout. When Hermione is controlling or Harry is fumbling, JK Rowling’s warm and mystical voice carries through like an invisible escalator taking the reader through the journey. The tone, word-choice, and style change, but Rowling’s voice remains the same.
Discover Your Voice
The most important step to discovering your voice is to read, read, and read. Reading is a writer’s fuel. It gets the levers of your brain wired to a mindset. Read what you like, and read a lot of it. Your interests pave the way to your passion. Your passion finds its way to your voice. Read poetry, read speeches, read song lyrics, and read scripts. When you find your idols, read everything they write.
The next step is to steal--steal like an artist. There's a difference between copying and emulating. Imitate what you really like and soon you will develop a unique voice personal to only you. Don't be afraid to borrow inspiration from your idols. Creativity isn’t about creating something new, it is about creating something authentic. The blend of the voices you have absorbed will come forth as a brand new version of you.
The last step is to practice. While inspiration and fuel spill into your work, what hones them is practice. As Malcolm Gladwell says, it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to excel at your craft. It is a constant process of learning and re-learning. Practice helps you play. Practice helps you experiment, and practice will help you edit. When you play with your craft your art will shape itself.
How to Use Your Voice
Guide the reader through a journey
Your voice is the consistent thread that guides a reader on a journey. Your voice could emerge through the character, or not. Some writers put themselves in the shoes of a character and slip into a personality, others tell the story from a omnipotent perspective, and a vast majority will use both tactics. The call is yours--it’s it, after all, your voice.
Don't focus on being different, be you
There are a billion beautiful pieces of work out there. Don't worry too much about how you're going to out-do them or if there is room enough for yet another voice. Don't worry about how you're going to be brand-new or different. As long as you're genuine, authentic, and honest your voice will emerge, and after some practice and polishing, it will soar.
Words have impact and readers will be moved by a compelling voice. Creativity is interconnected to and lingers in the universe. Feel strongly about what you like and the force will translate. Inspiration is felt first, given a voice, and then shared. Absorb all the fuel and channel it into your words, and your voice will spark with passion.