Liars Club

Burning Question: BTW What is Voice?

by Merry Jones on September 20, 2010

in Liars Club Philly,The Writing Life,The Writing Process,Uncommitted

Time for a new Burning Question about writing and publishing. Check in daily to see how we Liars respond. To see past answers to other Burning Questions, click on our For Writers page.  And if you would like to pose a Burning Question for our group of authors to ponder and post about, just shoot us an email or post a comment, and we’ll be happy to consider it!

Burning Question #10: The Writer’s Voice. What is it?

Today Liar Merry Jones kicks it off:


TTYL.  LOL.  BFF.  CUB4 class.  ‘Sup?  G2G.

Texts, emails, IM’s and tweets, using condensed phrases like those above, reduce language to its bare minimum. No adjectives, no spelling, no style.  Little if any punctuation.  Just unadorned units of meaning.

Often, even when actual words are used in these messages, the reader has trouble interpreting them.  Are they meant to be sarcastic?  Kidding?  Annoyed?  Ominous?  Without context or tone, the reader is often clueless.

What’s missing in these condensed messages, though, isn’t just vocabulary or commas or tone or context.  It’s something even greater and more fundamental.  It’s voice.

Voice, in writing, obviously is not spoken; even so, it can be distinctly heard. Voice is not tone, which sets a mood.  Not language, which depicts specifics of character, setting and action.  Not narration, although the narrator, too, has a voice of his/her own.  Not style, which writers can alter to suit the purpose of a work.

No, voice involves all of these factors, but it is none of them, not even the sum of them.  Nor is it rhythm or pacing or atmosphere or point of view or symbolism or, though some will disagree with me, a matter of artistic choice.

Voice, in my mind, is nothing less than the presence of the writer in his/her writing.

It is the “voice” dictating in the author’s head as he or she writes–Maybe it’s the subconscious.  Or the Muse, or madness.  No matter where it originates, though, that voice is unique for each of us.  It has a particular way of approaching and telling a story.  A distinct way of thinking, structuring, presenting, verbalizing, and all the other processes of writing combined.

Voice isn’t deliberate.  Isn’t controllable or often even conscious.  It is a presentation of self in an author’s work, a glimpse of the author’s mind.  It can be mimicked, as is evidenced by the myriad of contests imitating Hemingway, but if the writing is honest, personal and unaffected, voice can’t be effectively shaped or stifled.  It will emerge.

Every author’s voice is pretty much consistent throughout all of his/her work. Like a fingerprint, it’s  individual and, though it can mature and be honed, basically unchangeable. Voice is what separates one person’s writing from another’s.

And, when it’s missing, all that’s left is just bare symbols of meaning, devoid of personality.  2 empty 4 words.  C wut I mean?  :/

Merry Jones is the author of the Zoe Hayes mysteries, including The Nanny Murders, The River Killings, The Deadly Neighbors, The Borrowed and Blue Murders, as well as non-fiction books, including Birthmothers, and humor, including I Love Him, But… and If She Weren’t My Best Friend, I’d Kill Her.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

D Kahn September 21, 2010 at 12:00 am

IMHO, Merry Jones fully adressed burning issue #10 in a voice that carries the day.

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