On Hearing Voices
No. I’m not talking about literal voices. What I am referring to are the different voices we refer to in writing. There are two specific voices, and a few notes on style, to consider. The first is character voice, and the second is author voice. Then there is author style and editing problems to consider. Let’s take a look.
Character voice is one of the two types of voice we strive for as authors. To put it succinctly, this defines the character as a separate being. The words the character says, the tone of voice used, and how the character interacts with people are all voice. They help define that character as unique in the story. The danger here is that we sometimes interject our voices in for the character, which ends up making the character sound flat. Perhaps one of the biggest things that can aid in developing character voice is to be sure you understand that character well. Do a character study. Learn the details of the character’s background, motivations, goals, and feelings. All of this will help make sure the character’s voice comes through.
This one is a little tougher. It works in the same way as character voice, except it is our voice as the author. Our voice shines through with our unique perspective on the world. What do we write about? What do we include and what do we leave out? How do we interpret what we see, think, and feel, and how do we recount those interpretations? This is the author’s voice. It will stay fairly consistent across pieces though there will be changes as an author develops and grows. The best way to work on author voice is practice, practice, practice. Working with a developmental editor can help because part of that editing process is about ensuring the author’s voice is clear in the piece.
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Often confused with author voice, this is a similar but distinct element to writing. Style is more about constructing the story. Do we like to use a little purple prose or do we keep details sparse? Do we enjoy complex language and sentence structures or do we trend more simplistic and straight forward? This part of an author’s writing will stay consistent, for the most part, throughout the author’s career. The first step in developing your style as an author is to make sure you understand the rules of language and composition. Once you have a solid grasp on those rules, you can make deliberate choices to break them. Keep practicing it, and you’ll be well on your way to a distinct and recognizable style.
This is not a literary voice, however it is often confused as being author style. The major difference between author style and editing problems is one of intention. When authors choose to break grammar and composition rules, they are making a conscious decision. Therefore, they can be consistent across their works. After all, the whole point of author voice is for readers to recognize and resonate with your work. This becomes an editing issue when the choices are not well thought out and consistent. Then the rules violations appear haphazard and inconsistent. Readers, whether they understand this as the issue or not, struggle to continue reading work like this. There are a couple things you can do to combat this. First, make sure you understand grammar and style rules. Second, study your favorite authors to understand how they adhered to or violated grammar and style rules. Finally, work with a developmental editor. The developmental editor’s job is to help make sure your voice shines through while also balancing a polished and consistent story.
Here’s a simple way of thinking about each of these concepts. Character voice is your characters’ ability to speak for themselves. You want your reader to hear and see your characters when they read your story. Author voice is your way of looking at the world, what stories you tell, and how you tell them. This sets you apart as an author. Author style is the construction of the words themselves. Style supports author voice to let the story resonate with readers. I hope this helps in sorting all of this out. As always, let me know how it goes!