About a month ago, I read a fabulous piece on "how to craft a great voice" written by literary agent Nathan Bransford on his blog. Writers, if you haven't seen this, you'll want to check it out. Really. It's one of the best explanations I've ever read, and I think it addresses the complexity of the subject very well.
He wrote, "Voice, at its most basic level, is the sensibility with which an author writes. It's a perspective, an outlook on the world, a personality and style that is recognizable even out of context. You could drop randomly into a David Sedaris story or an Ernest Hemingway novel and probably guess the author within a few paragraphs because they have strong, unique voices. An author's voice is often imitated (think: Tolkien), but a truly original voice can never be duplicated."
He also describes some of what he considers "the essential elements" of voice. These are abbreviated from his post (so, please, read the full version...), but they'll give you a sense of what he suggests:
Style--the flow, rhythm, cadence of the writing; vocabulary, lexicon, slang and whether the author is wordy or spare
Personality--the unique way of seeing the world and choosing which details to focus on and highlight
Consistency--while it may get darker or lighter or funnier or sadder, it doesn't suddenly shift wildly in tone
Moderation--even the strongest voices don't over-do it, and they're not just made up of repeated verbal tics
Transportation--a good voice envelops the reader within the world of a book
Authority--quoting from Ink: "For me, one of the absolutely key elements of voice is authority. With a great voice you know the writer is in control, so in control that the writer vanishes and you see only the story... A great voice carries you through the story, compels you through the story. I think all great voices have that... There's a sureness to a great voice. The words are simply right and the rhythms of the prose are buoyant. You won't sink, not with these voices."
Originality--above all, a good voice is unique and can't be duplicated, and it is also extremely contagious
Authenticity--this is the key to finding the voice: your voice is in you; it's not you per se, but it's made up of bits and pieces of you
Thank you, Nathan.
I also think there are certain themes that we and our favorite authors tend to focus on. It's part of our unique perspective--those subjects that are so relevant to us that we MUST write about them. Personally, I love exploring a woman's journey of self-discovery as she tries to sift through the elements of her past and the relationships that shaped her worldview to come to a new understanding of her life in the present. I'm really hung up on characters learning to be honest with themselves, facing their fears and their fantasies, seeing and hearing each other more clearly. And I don't think there's a problem in the great universe that can't be improved with the support of true friends, a little humor and the occasional piece of chocolate. So, while I truly love reading across genres, I'm always pleased when I find authors who write stories like these...
But what about you? What kinds of themes do you love to write about and/or love to read? Who are some authors whose writing voice you really enjoy? Please share!