Agent Questions Volume Thirteen: All About Voice

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“Although the story has promise, I just didn’t connect with the voice. It needs to be stronger. It’s a pass. Sorry.”

As an agent, I pitched books to acquiring editors at publishing houses. Rejections came concerning connection of the story itself to the editor, but the one I see the most regards voice.

So, what is voice? Is it important? Why do editors want a “strong voice,” and how do I get one?

Wikipedia says, “Not to be confused with Character voice or Grammatical voice. Writing coaches, teachers, and authors of creative writing books often speak of a writer’s voice as distinguished from other literary elements. However, as voice is often described vaguely, this distinction may be only superficial. In some instances, voice is defined nearly the same as style; in others, as genre, literary mode, point of view, or tone.”

Every author has a voice. It is the way a story is told. It’s the way a writer phrases things, describes scenes, and structures sentences.

What about the character? There is something called Character voice, and it is different than the writer’s voice. The character’s voice is expressed in the way the main character views the story, how they see their world. Each character should have their own distinct voice.

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Can voice change? Yes.

“Just as you dress differently on different occasions, as a writer you assume different voices in different situations. If you’re writing an essay about a personal experience, you may work hard to create a strong personal voice in your essay. . .  If you’re writing a report or essay exam, you will adopt a more formal, public tone. Whatever the situation, the choice you make as you write and revise. . . will determine how readers interpret and respond to your presence.”(Lisa Ede, Work in Progress: A Guide to Writing and Revising. St. Martin’s Press, 1989)

Different genres often have different voices. That’s natural. Imagine sharing a story with someone else. You wouldn’t tell a horror story in the same voice you would tell a light fairy tale retelling. It makes sense that your voice would change between these types of tale.

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Are there other kinds of voice beside character and writer? Yes.

Stream of consciousness voice– In literature, stream of consciousness is a method of narration that describes happenings in the flow of thoughts in the minds of the characters. The term was initially coined by psychologist William James in his research, The Principles of Psychology.

Unreliable voice-An unreliable narrator is a narrator, whether in literature, film, or theatre, whose credibility has been seriously compromised. The term was coined in 1961 by Wayne C. Booth in The Rhetoric of Fiction. … Sometimes the narrator’s unreliability is made immediately evident.

Epistolary voice-An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, or documents to convey the story…

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Subjective voice– shows the thoughts and feelings of the characters

Objective voice– gives unbiased and objective report of facts

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Active voice- Active voice. In most English sentences with an action verb, the subject performs the action denoted by the verb. These examples show that the subject is doing the verb’s action. Because the subject does or “acts upon” the verb in such sentences, the sentences are said to be in the active voice.  i.e. “The girl goes to school.”

Passive voice–  A verb is in the passive voice when the subject of the sentence is acted on by the verb. For example, in “The ball was thrown by the pitcher,” the ball (the subject) receives the action of the verb, and was thrown is in the passive voice.

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Voice and POV-

First person= (I/We) “I went to the store.”

Second person= (You) “The first time I saw you, I knew we’d be friends.”

Third person omniscient= (All knowing) “He was the kid who hated math more than anyone else.”

Third person limited omniscient= (POV of one or two characters with partial knowledge) “She felt strange telling him all her secrets.” Later, “He had appreciated her sharing with him.

Third person objective= (Surface info told objectively) “The field was alive with people and fabric of all colors and sizes. The band could be heard for miles.”

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But you haven’t told us how to have a strong voice.

Here’s the key: As attitude, tone and personal style are parts of a writer’s voice, you need to keep the style and description of your story, but edit out the monotony, boring scenes, unclear language.

A strong voice is cultivated in the editing process with concise language, sensory words, and emotional expression. Do not think the word concise only means “short.” The definition of concise is: giving a lot of information clearly and in a few words; brief but comprehensive.

So, you want to focus on brevity, clarity, precision, and language style.

For a strong writer’s voice, focus on being clear with your descriptions, use language that your target readers use, use words to make pictures in the reader’s mind, and finally, vary your sentences. Add rhythm to monotonous lines that are all the same length.

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Carefully choose your tone of voice. Tell the story your unique way, then edit it to be clear, brief and comprehensive. You can do it!!

Have more to add about voice? Put it in the comments.


6 thoughts on “Agent Questions Volume Thirteen: All About Voice

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