What is Author Voice?
A lot of time is spent in writing circles discussing author voice. What is it? How do you perfect it?
Author voice is the way in which an author tells a story: word and phrase choices, sentence and chapter length, and the author's distinct world view.
Let’s look at some passages from books by two authors and “listen” to a few different voices and what they say to us.
Coming Home by Rosamund Pilcher:
The Porthkerris Council School stood half-way up the steep hill which climbed from the heart of the little town to the empty moors which lay beyond. It was a solid Victorian edifice, built of granite blocks, and had three entrances, marked Boys, Girls, and Infants, a legacy from the days when segregation of the sexes was mandatory. It was surrounded by a Tarmac playground and a tall wrought-iron fence, and presented a fairly forbidding face to the world. But on this late afternoon in December, it stood fairly ablaze with light, and from its open doors streamed a flood of excited children, laden with boot-bags, book-bags, balloons on strings, and small paper bags filled with sweets. They emerged in small groups, jostling and giggling and uttering shrieks of cheerful abuse at each other, before finally dispersing and setting off for home.
What does this author’s voice say to us? Ms. Pilcher invites us into a fictional setting with rich detail but without lingering on the minutia that might bog down the story. (Confession time, she’s one of my all-time favorite authors.) She seems affectionate in describing this scene and wanting us to see the excited children as they head on home. I imagine that I’m sitting in a toasty kitchen, sipping tea while a dear friend tells me a good story.
Here’s another sample:
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote:
The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call "out there." Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them.
Capote’s description of Holcomb is almost clinical in style. His voice colors his description of the setting, especially when talks about the local accent. He seems to show no special affection for the area, yet he’s invited us to Holcomb to journey with him as he investigates the story behind a family murdered. His is such a different voice than Pilcher’s, don’t you think?
I have good news and bad news for you today.
The good news is that no one, no other writer, speaker, or thinker can steal your voice. Your voice is what publishers will buy. Your voice is the only product readers can’t get anywhere else.
The bad news is that no one can teach you how to create your voice.
But, I have more good news—with practice, you can discover and develop your voice. Join me again next week when we look at a few more authors’ voices and continue this discussion.
But, tell me—have you found your author voice?
*This is part one of a four-part series on author voice. Check back next Tuesday for part two.