What does this mean?
Well, I could give you the pared-down Wiki explanation: "Writer's voice is a literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author. Voice is a combination of a writer's use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works). Voice can also be referred to as the specific fingerprint of an author, as every author has a different writing style."
But what does it mean?
I spent a lot of time trying to answer that question for myself. Heck, I didn't even realize I had a voice until someone told me they liked it after reading this:
"I don't know why they call this place Mount Hope. The nearest mountains from these Kansas plains are 489.16 miles away, and hope, well, it left with Joey before I could tell him how I felt. Stupid parents – his for taking him so far away, mine for telling me I’m too young to know what real love is. 'You’ll see each other again if it’s meant to be' doesn’t give much comfort when I’m stuck in this podunk town with no one who understands me the way Joey did. I hope his parents don’t mind a permanent guest."
After that, something clicked inside my head, and I understood what everyone meant by "voice." Suddenly, I was able to define what it was about Patty Callahan-Henry that I liked or what it was about John Grisham that I didn't.
Trying to explain this to other people (especially non-writers who get irritated when I tell them why I'm not a Grisham fan), however, is another animal. But I ran across something this morning -- well, actually, something sparked a memory, that sparked a thought, that triggered an "Oh, yeah" -- that might help.
Oddly enough, I can use my second passion (music) to explain this important facet about my first passion (writing).
Scanning through youtube videos this morning I found this:
Yep, Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana. If you watch MTV or VH-1 long enough, eventually someone will go on and on about how Kurt Cobain was a grunge god, how his music changed a the face of music as we knew it, how he became the pissed-off voice of a generation of malcontents. Meh, meh, meh... Whoa, wait a minute? Did I say voice? I did, I did!
When adoring fans and media talk about how Kurt Cobain became that "voice," they weren't talking about his raspy, cig-scarred pipes. They were talking about what he was saying and how he said it. It made an impact, an impression.
But around about the same time, another musician was making an impact on the world with her own voice (that's voice, as in pipes). Songstress Tori Amos took the same song that put Nirvana on the map -- Smells Like Teen Spirit -- and gave it to the audience in her own voice. With the exception of the lyrics and hook, the two songs are barely recognizable as children born from the same parent.
That's because their voices -- the statements theses artists wanted to make and the method of delivering those statements -- are unique.
How do you develop a voice?
Chances are you already have one, you just need to tune it. I tuned mine by reading books by a variety of authors, staying true to my heart and roots and writing, writing and writing some more. (Although, I really didn't start having fun with it until I started telling stories in first person.)
So, what do you think? Have you found your voice? If so, how? If not, does my analogy (for lack of a better word) help?