Tuesday, September 3, 2013

VOICE, or- Why Can’t We Hear It?

There are many articles on Voice in writing. PhD and graduate theses written on this subject define and analyze. Editors often say they look for “strong and distinctive voice.” Voice trumps everything: misspelling, typos, even a plot that isn’t all there. These can be fixed in revision. Characters can be made deeper and more complex. Descriptions can be added. A writer can change all the passive construction this one just heaped on here.

But not a lack of this thing we call, here I’ll shout it, VOICE.

The other night I heard my late grandmother’s voice saying, in her distinct Yiddish accent, “Vat is dis ting they call voice? Vy dey fuss so much about it? Can you tell it to me plain?”
And still half asleep, I thought I had one of those perfect illuminative distillations. I heard myself answer her.
Voice is the personality of the narration.”
Nice going, I thought. Gotta write it down somewhere. Wake up and  find your pencil.
But grandmother was not so impressed. “Vat poisonality? You have poisonality, maydaleh. Dis narr—vat you call it, it is not a poisonality.”
So I’m still in search for a clear and simple way to say it. No highfaluting verbiage. Writing about writing can get fancy.
But at least I heard my grandma’s voice.


  1. Grandmothers are the best:) Interesting article.

  2. Writing voice is a lot like the physical voice. It's easier to recognize someone else's voice than your own!

  3. Hmmm...I think that your definition of voice hit the nail on the head. You could tweak it a bit and say "voice projects the personality of the narration" (or narrator, depending upon POV). Or "voice infuses personality into the narration." Now I am going to be thinking about this for awhile! Your posts are always so thought-provoking and intelligent, Mirka! = )

  4. Your grandmother may not have appreciated your succinct definition of voice, but I do.

  5. You had me smiling at your grandmother's accent- I could hear her perfectly! Great voice. ;)

  6. The accent of your grandmother was wonderful. Great voice about voice!

  7. My mother second-guesses a lot of what I see and hear and see around me too--especially when it's high-falutin'.

    1. :)
      Long after they're gone, ancestors continue to pat us on the back and bring us down to size....

  8. I've heard my grandmother's voice a time or two as well. And my mom's and dad's now that they're gone. It's always a sweet experience even when they're admonishing me about something. Here's my mom's: "Now, Karen!"

    I'm picky about voice in the books I read. If I love the author's voice I'll read past plot holes, anything, and if I don't, well I just can't continue on with that book.

    That's one of the things I loved about The Voice of Thunder was the narrative voice that gave me a window into this world and took me along for the ride.

  9. My strongest story voices have come to me just the way your grandmother's voice came to you. I usually have the MCs voice before I have anything else.

    I like your definition, BTW.

  10. One of the reasons why I love Rick Riordan is because reading the Percy Jackson series is what made me find my voice as a writer. Something about the way Riordan's words came alive for me just sparked that voice inside me. While my voice isn't Riordan's, I know it was inspired by him. :)

  11. There's something about dear ones who've passed on: We remember their voices -- accents, word choices, pet phrases. For me, realizing this is a powerful convincer of the importance of voice.

  12. Your grandmother had a great voice! What always captivates me first is the narrators' voices. What makes me read on is also their voices. Strong ones stay with us forever. (Forever is a long time, and that's how long those voices will stay.)