Think of your favorite writers, whether of books, blogs, or magazine or newspaper articles.
Chances are you’ve become devoted to them because of their voice, even if you’ll never hear their accent or intonation directly.
Their authorial “voice” is crucial to attracting and retaining an audience.
Are they funny? Angry? Poignant? Sarcastic? How much you enjoy their work, and their choice of voice, depends mightily on this decision.
And maintaining that voice throughout the manuscript is the writer’s job — if the reader has started out expecting opera, they don’t suddenly want hip-hop halfway through!
Choosing which voice to use is just one of many decisions we need to make when we sit down to write — confiding, casual and conversational tones often work best for bloggers, probably less so for a more formal work of history or biography.
Christopher Hitchens. now suffering esophageal cancer, writes eloquently about this in the most recent issue of Vanity Fair:
The most satisfying compliment a reader can pay is to tell me that he or she feels personally addressed. Think of your own favorite authors and see if that isn’t precisely one of the things that engage you, often at first without your noticing it. A good conversation is the only human equivalent: the realizing that decent points are being made and understood, that irony is in play, and elaboration, and that a dull or obvious remark would be almost physically hurtful. This is how philosophy evolved in the symposium, before philosophy was written down. And poetry began with the voice as its only player and the ear as its only recorder. Indeed, I don’t know of any really good writer who was deaf, either.
One of my favorite bloggers also recently addressed the same topic:
That’s what I want to feel as a reader; I want to feel someone there, compelled to tell me a story because they are sure only I can truly understand it. There are four authors whose voices are perfect for me – Colette, Willa Cather, Kafka and Rilke. In each case you can feel the heart beating and the mind thinking behind the voice. The book by Alvarez I’m reading, The Writer’s Voice, is quite interesting and provocative, but it’s also rather jumbled; however, it does make me want to spend more time with those favourite authors and their pitch perfect voices.
The underlying issue for every writer is confidence — that you will find readers, that they will want to read you, that your voice will be heard!
I’ve been writing for a living since I was 19 years old, so had, even then, a preternatural confidence (perhaps that of the only child, never competing as hard for attention?) that someone might want to hear what I have to say, in the way in which I choose to say it.
Bad editors can silence your voice and wilt your resolve to speak — or have your fictional characters speak — as you wish.
A terrific editor (I had one for “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”) helps you see where you’ve slipped out of character, as it were, or where your narrator’s voice begins to grate.
Whose writer’s voice(s) do you most enjoy and why?