|(Picture courtesy Pendragon1966 - Deviantart)
When I first started writing, there were a million new things to learn. I was always a good student in English class, and while I did take some post-secondary English, it was not my central area of study. So I plugged away at it, learned how to use commas correctly (most of the time), mastered the em-dash, the ellipsis, use of quotation marks in dialogue, all with the help of guides and books that told me clearly, if x then y. If your quoted dialogue ends in a period, then goes on to give attribution, the period is moved to the end of the sentence, after attribution, and the spot at the end of the quote becomes a comma.
Easy right? There are rules.
Then I heard about voice.
Agents want to hear voice. Many agents say they must have a good sense of voice from your first page, or they won't read on.
I researched voice, but I never really came up with anything helpful. "You know it when you see it." Seemed to be the consensus.
Well I think I have it now and I'm willing to share.
To me, voice is the character telling the story. It may be the author's own personal voice, but unless you're a character in the leap off the page sense, I think you need to invent that character.
Here's an example:
"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.
This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches." - Opening to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
Nothing happens. No characters are introduced. There's no conflict, no real plot development. The voice does all the work, and you'd read on, wouldn't you? Who could put it down after reading just the first page? Because this voice, this is someone cool, someone funny, someone with charisma. This voice is the person you want to stand next to at a party, because you know they're going to say interesting things and you won't be bored. If you gave this voice to an actor/actress they'd leap off the screen.
This voice is stardust.
Not that you, or I, or anyone should attempt to be Douglas Adams. We have to find our own paths, our own voices that suit our work. While we work at it though, it's important to remember the qualities of great voice. Big, bold personality, charisma, wit, and above all, confidence. There is little that draws humans to another person like confidence.
Read your favorite authors and think about why you like their voice. Write a list of attributes they have that appeal to you and examine how you can develop those in your own writing. Do not attempt to copy another writer's style. There's only one of them, just as there's only one of you and copies inevitably pale in comparison to the original.
Above all, write.
Revel in the act of creation.
Be the god of your world and bring that godlike confidence to your readers. Take them by the hand, give a confident squeeze and say, "Come with me, I've got something amazing to show you."