To all fiction writers, and even nonfiction writers, one of the most discouraging issues encountered is to find a suitable voice for their writing. Often times when reading the work back over they’ll find that it is too dull or or that it is unmemorable. This is a simple issue but it is also a crucial issue. Some writers are so outright with their voice that just by a single excerpt readers will know who’s work it is. Other writers are more subtle with their voice. Just to get a general idea of what voice is, this video nicely explains.
The first thing to do is it actually identify what you’re trying to say. Take fiction for example. When crafting a story the writer has to consider what point of view would fit best and what tone the story should have to be the most effective. Some writers will change certain things about the voice of each story to fit the story best, other writers will remain constant with their voice and craft stories specifically to fit that. But in both cases the writer makes decisions to get their point across in the most beneficial way. Once the writer has identified what they’re trying to get across then they’ll make their choices accordingly.
Art many times reflects the artist. However, in writing, the voice of the story can reflect the character more than it reflects the author. The best example of this would be William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury”. The story is broken up into four sections with each taking the perspective of a different character. The first section follows a Character named Benjy, it also happens to be one of the most baffling texts in literature. The character Benjy is mentally retarded and has no sense of time, therefore in mid-sentence the story can move back periods of decades to a different event with no indication of any change. But this also gives the reader a purely objective glimpse into the other characters as Benjy observes them but doesn’t speculate on them. Again in the second section of the book, when it follows a character named Quentin, the tone of the story becomes more disenchanted and morose, reflecting the character’s outlook.
Faulkner gives a good example of how a writer’s voice is malleable to the story. The tone of the story shifts as the reader realizes the purpose of each character. This is a valuable lesson on identifying the role of each character and how to best reflect that with the other tools in writing. Another example being that throughout “The Sound and the Fury” the first three sections are narrated in the 1st person, except for the fourth section which switches to the 3rd person. Without giving away the story, this decision was made to make the story flow better and conclude the narrative. This showcases how certain devices such as tone, narrator, and story elements are used to reflect each individual character, and subsequently the author. Being able to identify the purpose of the story will allow the writer to then make decisions on each one of these factors to find their voice.
Something else to take into account when writing is to identify the audience. Many times writers will avoid this step because it seems cumbersome and irrelevant, but often times it is just what a piece needs. Take into an account a writer who has a strong voice in their writing, for instance Hunter S. Thompson. One thing about Thompson is that he has a specific audience, although it’s hard to tell whether he reflects the culture or if the culture reflects him. What I mean is that he is known for “Gonzo Journalism” that subjective narrative style in journalism that recreates the story from the 1st person on psychedelic drugs. Like in his “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” he describes walking into a bar and seeing lizard monsters tear each other apart. Thompson’s writing appeals to a specific audience, namely the hippie culture of the 1960’s and people that act like that generation. Knowing where the audience come’s in is crucial. If he were to write something that didn’t reflect his other famous work in any way, it would have the possibility of losing his audience and it could be disastrous. The trick was to write something appealing to that same audience but in the same way have it be original. For writers of unknown work the trick would be to more gear the book towards a specific audience and then go from there.
But also sense in a general sense art reflects the artist, something personal will always be revealed through your voice. It can be through the diction, the way you portray the characters, the morals of the story, ect. The story can be very personal and introspective. The narrator can choose to comment on things that reveal the opinions of the author, or it can be more impersonal and tell the story without much commenting. Even the story itself reveals something about the character. Like after reading “The Grapes of Wrath” the reader has a pretty good sense of the personality and politics of Steinbeck. In that way his writing was very personal because his voice framed the story so it would reveal a lot about him.
Taking this into consideration it’s helpful to contemplate exactly what it is about your own character you wish to reveal. While subconsciously certain things may slip through in your writing you may never notice, the writer has the ability to craft the story to their liking. Sense inevitably something about yourself will be portrayed in the writing, you have the power to decide what. Going back to Hunter S. Thompson his writing reveals that he is a high octane person, that he enjoys excitement and adventure. For Hunter this was reflected mostly through his diction and tone, but there are other ways to do this. Again, you don’t have to be consciously doing this to make it happen in your writing. If you’re a very depressed person chances are it will show in your writing, the same goes with happiness, anxiety, eagerness, hopefulness, or whatever the emotion may be. This is why some writers wish to be in a specific setting and mood they write: so their writing is more consistent and it puts them in the right frame of mind.
Even if you choose for your personality not to have a strong presence in your writing, the voice is what makes a difference. Some of the most elegant writers ever had a very subtle voice, and others had a more strong voice. It’s really about what suits the writer and the story best.