Welcome to day 25 of the A to Z Challenge, and today’s topic is Voice. Writers are often advised to ‘develop their own voice’ and there’s much talk in creative writing classes about ‘voice, tone and style’. What do these different terms mean, and how does a writer’s ‘voice’ differ from the voice of a character?

Voice, tone and style

Trying to differentiate between these terms is tricky. The Oxford English dictionary definition of voice is:

the distinctive tone or style of a literary work or author:she had strained and falsified her literary voice

So hold on a minute – voice means tone and style? OK, so how about tone:

1. a musical or vocal sound with reference to its pitch, quality, and strength:they were speaking in hushed tones

2. the general character or attitude of a place, piece of writing, situation, etc.:trust her to lower the tone of the conversation

And style?

a particular procedure by which something is done; a manner or way:

a way of using language:he never wrote in a journalistic style

I think we’re getting somewhere now. It’s fairly easy to see how you might alter the tone of a piece of writing – keeping it light and fluffy for comedy, say, or using darker imagery for crime fiction. Although amorphous, style is also reasonably simple to understand – at least, you can usually see the style of a piece quite clearly. There are definitive styles of writing: journalistic, academic, informal etc. And there will, of course, be your own personal style.

But voice? I’m still stumped. When I started writing my first novel, I had every intention of writing like my hero, Anne Tyler. I sat down and began to put words on paper. To my utter horror, when I read it back I found that what I’d written was nothing like Anne Tyler; it was actually a bit funny, a bit (as they say in the States) ‘snarky’. Was this my voice? Was I stuck with this forever?

Well, thankfully no. But I do think this gets us closer to understanding voice. It’s not merely how a particular character talks – even if the book is written in the first person – and it’s not just made up of tone and style. A writer can alter their voice, but I don’t think they can successfully mimic someone else’s. Voice is individual and unique; it’s your own experiences and linguistic preferences coming through. The way to develop a unique voice is to just write, and keep writing.

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