Many of you who are in search of representation have probably read that agents are looking for writing that shows “a strong original voice.” The question is: What do they mean? What exactly is a strong original voice?
A writing voice employs the author’s style, tone and point of view. I suppose the easiest way to describe voice is to call it simply, personality. An original voice sounds like no other author’s and is the way to show individuality versus formulaic writing. It lets readers know your characters and keeps them engaged, as if they are getting to know a new friend. A strong writing voice makes every word count. Each word and phrase must fit with the voice you are portraying.
When thinking about voice for your novel, consider what you most want to convey about your characters, the setting, and the message of the piece. What knowledge and/or insights do you wish to impart when someone is reading your book? You must also consider the tone of the piece, and an easy way to think about tone is to view it as the mood of the writing. And lastly, you must also consider your target audience. For young adult novels, as an example, you might be writing about a character who is fun, trendy and upbeat. In that case, your writing voice should be reflective of those traits. On the other hand, if your character is depressed, edgy and dark, then the writing should impart those characteristics as well.
One of the best ways to learn about voice is to read strongly realized novels. Read Little Bee by Chris Cleave, not only because it’s a great read but to see how he employs voice to vividly paint the life of a refugee girl. In A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Michael Dorris creates an individual style and voice for three different female protagonists. And finally, in Out Stealing Horses, Per Patterson conveys a pitch-perfect voice and tone for a book about tragedy and loss.