In writer’s circles, “voice” is often discussed as if it’s some mystical element which seeps out from the heavens, or the depths of an adult beverage, to infuse one’s writing with the essence of truth, gravitas, or some other damn thing.
It’s not. Really.
Voice is a reflection of everything a writer brings to a work, typically manifested in the way a narrator puts things, but it can be broader than that. It can include the dialect of one or more characters; it can express an attitude or a distinct point of view. Your voice should be different from everyone else on Earth, and it will be unless you’re deliberately trying to sound like some other writer.
Here’s a little experiment you can try with this voice thing. The intent is to make you focus on content, and let your personal style — your voice — flow in whatever ways feel natural to YOU. Working quickly, write at least one paragraph based on each of the following scenarios (use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person, past or present tense–whatever feels right):
1) It’s your first day on the job as a remedial reading teacher in the maximum security wing of a federal penitentiary. Your class begins in two minutes, and you’ve just learned that one of your inmate students is a serial killer who targeted people “just like you.”
2) You sell used cars, but you’re not very good at it. You see a car on the lot you know has already been sold several times. It looks great and runs like a Swiss watch, but never stays gone for long. Someone you know — but don’t really like — wants it desperately. The commission is substantial. That’s when you learn the last three owners died within days of buying it.
3) Daryl “Sure Shot” Slade has come to town looking for you, and revenge. Dodge City doesn’t offer many places for someone famous — like you — to hide. Too bad your reputation is based on a lie. And now, here comes Slade, pushing through the double doors of the saloon, itching for a fight.
4) “Anything,” is what you promised you’d do. “Anything, for a million dollars.” The TV producer who took you up on your offer is filming a reality show, and you’re looking at a 2-quart saucepan full of live worms. The producer smiles, calls for action, and says, “bon appétit.“
5) You’ve been away from home for years. Your CIA job is so sensitive you can’t talk about it, but you never stop working. You’re constantly evaluating threats and assessing situations. That’s when you recognize that the man dating your widowed mother is a spy, and probably an assassin.
When you’re done, review your work, but not for grammar and punctuation. Review it for style and see if the approach you used for the content has a certain flare. That — more than likely — is your voice. You can wash it, comb it, even fluff it up a bit, but that’s your sound; that’s your voice.
If your response to one of these tidbits tickles you; if you think it captures your voice; why not clean it up and post it in the comments section? I’d like to see it. If writing about one or more of these scenarios interests you enough to do a full story, so much the better.
Go. Write. Publish!