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Why is VOICE so Important in Fiction?

Updated: Nov 14, 2022

One of the most frequent things you’ll hear agents and editors mention first about novels they either love or hate is voice. A novel’s voice is the author’s writing style. It’s her personality coming through the words on the page. The voice in Ernest Hemingway’s short stories and novels is instantly recognizable as his signature style. The voice in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is another example. Voice includes the point of view, the dialect, the tone, the mood, the vocabulary, the syntax, the pacing, the stylistic techniques, the punctuation, and so on, of your novel. It’s who we hear speaking to us and how, and it needs to capture our attention. Without a compelling and interesting voice, you’ll lose the reader. In novels, voice can refer to the narrator, or the individual characters within the novel.

Narrators in novels can be the author telling the story, or they can be one of the characters telling the story. A distinct voice is what agents and editors are looking for when they read novels. Without a captivating voice, the rest of the novel is just words on the page.

Here are some quotes about Voice in fiction

"I have a great advantage: I write from the perspective of my own voice. I'm not copying anyone's voice. It's my voice. I have the advantage of being a writer of English as a second language."

Chath Piersath, poet.

"The writer's voice is a singular one, solitary. Art is nothing other than the freedom to express oneself in any language, in whatever manner, dressed any which way."

– Jhumpa Lahiri.

"Ninety-five percent of all writers who write do not get published, but 100 percent of all writers write because they have a voice in their head. The vast majority of writers simply write because they have to."

– Steve Berry

"All writers are mimics, and I'm not interested in picking up somebody else's style or voice."

– Thomas Perry

"I’ve long come to the conclusion that when people say they can’t put a book down, they don’t mean they’re interested in what’s happening next; they mean they are so mesmerized by the writer’s voice and the relationship that has been established that they don’t want to break that. That’s what I feel when I read, and I’m sure now that that’s what’s going on in the relationship between the reader and the writing."

– David Malouf

Here’s an example, the beginning, actually, of Twain’s Huck Finn:

You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied, one time or another, without it was Aunty Polly—Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is—and Mary, and the Widow Douglas, is all told about in that book—which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.

Pretty distinct, isn’t it? And captivating. We, as readers, get the dialect, the stylistic technique, the vocabulary, syntax, and so on. It’s a great voice, and we want to read on.

It's your job as a writer of fiction to come up with your own distinct voice. I'm not saying you might not sound a little like another voice, only that you have to do your best using the tools you have to differentiate yourself via voice through your writing and editing of that voice. You have to play around with voice like you would anything else in your fiction--tweak it, try things that go against what you normally do, and see what happens. Your goal as a novelist and short story writer is to tell a great story in a voice that is memorable and distinct. Now go forth and listen to the voices around you. Google dialect. Watch videos. And then get to work.

Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next time.

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Jan 23
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Love the quotes. Very inspiring!

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