Voice in Fiction: What it is and How to Develop it
Voice is important to a piece of writing. Most agents will tell you that voice is a key factor in whether they accept or reject a novel. Hearing that sends many new writers into a panic–OMG, what is a voice, and how do I develop one?
I can’t give you much advice on voice, other than to assure you that you have one.
Voice is, simply, how you write. Some folks might call it your style. Your voice will develop as you learn to write. Your main literary influences will have some input into your voice. You will borrow things from them but you won’t copy them—or you shouldn’t; that would end in disaster. But you will meld these influences into your own style, your own voice.
For example, my major influences when I started writing were Ray Bradbury, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway. I got my love for creating imagery from Bradbury and Steinbeck, and I strive to keep my prose simple like Hemingway. I borrowed dialogue techniques and narrative techniques from all three.
But I didn’t copy those dudes. My imagery is down to earth (more like Steinbeck than Bradbury, whose imagery gets a little flowery at times), and I tend to mix longer sentences into my prose than Hemingway. The result was my own style, my own voice, that was different from my literary mentors.
Since then I’ve learned from lots of other writers. I learn something from almost every good novel or short story I read. I even learn from the bad ones (i.e.—don’t use that technique or the story might stink to high heaven).
Your voice doesn’t have to stand out like Bradbury’s. It may be more subtle, but it will develop and become more distinctive the more you write.
One thing I do know about voice is that you can’t consciously develop it. If you try to create a voice you will meet with a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions. Your writing will sound phony, and that’s a bad thing if you’re trying to get your work published.
The best advice I can give you concerning voice is: don’t worry about it. Work on your craft, write the kinds of stories you like to read, and your voice will take care of itself.