During my last term at Seton Hill University (SHU), I presented a workshop on the writer’s voice. Following is a summary of that workshop.
I’ve been to several writing conferences and attended agent and editor panels to learn what they’re looking for in a manuscript. More than once I’ve heard them say they want writers with a fresh voice. What is a fresh voice?
Defining voice is difficult because the concept includes elements that are intangible. The best way to describe voice would be to say that voice is the way a writer puts words on paper, which shows the writer’s personality and style. It’s a combination of a writer’s upbringing, belief system, education and interests that make the writer’s voice unique like a fingerprint.
Voice is literally everything when an editor is considering your manuscript. One way to get your personality on the page is to understand the elements that go into voice.
Vocabulary (A writer’s choice of words)
This is the foundation of voice and contributes to all of its elements. Words are the writer’s basic tools that create color and texture to the written work. Specific words will bring the reader into the scene, enabling full participation in the writer’s world and help shape the reader’s perceptions. Effective voice is shaped by words that are clear, concrete and exact. Words that invoke a specific effect.
Syntax (Sentence structure)
Syntax is all about structure; the way words are arranged within sentences. It ensures the coherence of your subject, verb and object, and the relationships that tie them together. It’s a subtle element that most readers aren’t aware of, but it’s one that writers must pay attention to. How craftily the writer puts words together, shows the writer’s personality in the writing and a level of skill.
Details ( Facts, observations and incidents)
The information chosen by the writer that brings descriptions to life. It focuses the reader’s attention and brings the reader into the scene.
Description has the most important role to play in a writer’s voice. Not enough descriptions will leave the reader questioning where they are and too much will drown them in unimportant details. It’s important that writers find a balance between too little and too much.
Imagery (Verbal representation of the five senses)
Imagery depends on vocabulary and details, but it takes description to another level. It’s a method writers use to paint pictures of scenes and characters in the minds of readers. It contributes to voice by evoking a vivid experience and by conveying specific emotions.
Emotions of the writer have everything to do with his/her voice. What the writer feels will telegraph onto the page. Writers with a strong voice allow their emotions to drive their story, which will have an impact on the choices they make. When you tap into your own emotions, your voice engages the emotions of the reader.
Tone (Expression of attitude)
The combination of all the elements (vocabulary, syntax, details and imagery) come together to create the tone. Just as the pitch and volume of someone’s speaking voice can carry a difference in tone, the choice of words with descriptive details and the way sentences are structured creates a sense of tone in our writing.
Voice is unique to each writer. Through reading published work and writing something every day, you can learn to identify the elements. You can achieve your own voice simply by the words you choose to put on the paper.