After several weeks of grammar and punctuation, I'm ready for a good discussion about one of the less definable elements of writing craft--Voice.
What is Voice? How do I develop it? Can it change from book to book and over time?
Voice adds depth and personality to the story. It sets the tone, whether that tone is humor, suspense, or something else. Think about what makes individual people different from the person standing next to them. Does the stuffy CEO have a deadpan sense of humor? Or maybe she has a knack for telling the unvarnished truth without caring that she might offend someone? Every writer will have his/her own way of writing the same scene based on his knowledge, past experiences, and perceptions.
Voice, through word choices and punctuation, can change the meaning of a sentence, adding uniqueness to an otherwise "flat" scene. To add suspense to a scene, the heroine might creep along an alley rather than walking through it. While you choose "creep," I might choose "slink" instead. For sexual tension, the hero might dangle the heroine's black lace thong from his fingertip for a moment and give her a wicked grin instead of simply removing her panties and dropping them on the floor. Will the panties be a thong or a scrap of lace? A well-placed em-dash can give the right punch to a line as well, showing emphasis where you want it to fall.
By allowing your personality into your writing, you develop your own voice. Not only do word choices and punctuation add to it, sentence structure and word order contribute to that not-the-same-as-everybody-else element as well. This is often influenced by geography and education. Think dialects. A native Bostonian isn't going to speak the same as a Southern lady, and a mechanic probably won't sound like an English professor. An important point to remember--your characters still have to stay true to who they are.
As you write (and live) more, you gain more experience and knowledge--sort of like your very own character arc. Those factors tend to make subtle changes to your voice. Maybe you've shifted from historical romance to paranormals. By putting yourself in new surroundings, you'll adapt your voice to fit the genre, just as most people behave differently in a variety of situations. That growth is a good thing, but be sure to follow through once you've chosen the humorous, serious, reflective, etc. tone for your book.
Although Voice is intangible, it still influences the mood of your writing. Make a list of your strongest personality traits and decide which ones you want to show in your narrative. If you're trying to develop a new voice, define how you intend to convey it. Then write and get feedback. Remember--if writing was easy, everybody would finish a book. :)
Since I'm sitting at my desk smelling the sauce cooking for lasagna, let's delve into Using the Senses to draw in the reader next week!
Romance...With A Kick!