What Does “Voice” Mean?
Unless you’re a professional writer, you may be unfamiliar with the term, “Voice.” It refers to the style, tone, format, and language used in writing projects. Here are some examples. The language could be very formal, as in a scientific paper with references and footnotes. It could be “colloquial,” as in employing slang or idiomatic language peculiar to a particular region of a country. You might elect to write in poetry instead of prose. Your language could be authoritarian, educational, or persuasive. You may choose to write in a staccato fashion with short, simple, almost bulleted statements. For other audiences, you might choose a more flowery, descriptive, flowing design.
Which Voice Should You Choose?
You may be writing correspondence, documenting an event, scripting a play, or creating a proposal. Regardless, the Voice can make the difference between success and failure. There are myriad styles of Voice. They give individuality to characters in your book or which could persuade investors reading your business plan. Choose the style and format that best suits your purposes. Keep in mind the nature of your audience and how you want people to understand or react to your words. Are you trying to make them laugh or cry? Do you want them to invest in your business? Is it your goal to convince them that climate change is influenced by mankind? What is your objective and Why? Those answers will guide you as to How to craft your work.
Is It OK to Combine Styles of Voice?
Yes, you can combine styles. For example, in a theatrical work, a child would speak in a different Voice from that of an adult. The child’s words and sentences would be short, simple, and high-pitched. They would reflect innocence and a naive world-view. On the other hand, adults would speak in lower tones and in paragraphs at times. Adults use Voices reflecting things like their cultural backgrounds, professions, biases, and levels of education. I used this multi-level technique when I wrote a play, called “Break the Chain,” which is about domestic violence. There is a distinct difference in the sophistication and perspective of a child, mother, and counselor as spoken in that play.
Another example of a combined style is the use of a narration. It can be punctuated purposefully with inserts like poems, diary entries, corporate documents, screenshots, or love letters. Whether used in segments or as the entire format of your writing, Epistolary Voice helps you string concepts together in the sequence you desire.
Create a Voice to Provide Continuity
You also can use Voice as a technique to provide continuity among seemingly unrelated events. It can advance the storyline from one situation to the next along a timeline. I used that method when I scripted 3 Hots and a Cot. These are unrelated stories (of real homeless people) which I put into monologues to be performed in theaters. It was difficult to transition from someone who went bankrupt because of medical bills to someone who became homeless because of a house fire or a drug addiction. I solved that problem by creating a Narrator, whose short commentary provided a smooth transition among each of the chronicles. That tool also helped me to determine the best order in which to present disparate characters and storylines.
Use Voice to Intrigue the Audience or Let Them In On a Secret
You also may employ Voice to provide the audience with a perspective which is different from what your characters are experiencing. This can be “an aside.” An aside is a comment directed to the audience which contradicts what is happening in a scene or creates suspense about what it portends for the future. For example, a camera may pull away from a tableau of friends in a living room as the main character says, “Little did I know that this seemingly innocent gathering would set the stage for my being accused of a crime that I did not commit.”
This form utilizes the author’s unique writing style or point of view. This does not mean you must write in the way you normally speak. It means you wouldn’t write a fairy tale in the same style as you write a letter challenging a charge on your credit card. The author could speak in the first person or not. You may simply choose a specific style in which to write the document, presentation, or story with consistency.
This is the perspective of the main character, who may be speaking as a voice-over and might not ever be seen. It is commonly used when one of the characters is a Narrator. If the material is biographical, the Character’s Voice may change in age and style from that of a child to that of an adult.
Stream of Consciousness Voice
This may be done in Third Person Subjective Voice. This mode is conversational, colloquial, opinionated, and/or emotional. The speaker may use incorrect grammar. It is rather like talking to oneself, sometimes repetitively and in broken trains of thought. One caution: don’t overdo it, or people will just think you are dumb or deranged, and they may become disinterested. There always must be a point to what you are writing. Craft carefully.
In contrast, when you write in Third Person Objective Voice, the commentary is devoid of emotionalism and is not opinionated. It simply presents the facts about the scene or situation, as if you were writing a report about an incident that you witnessed.
In my opinion, Unreliable Voice is a technique that only skilled writers should use. It is a clever “trick” which leads audiences into thinking they have a full understanding of the nature of each character and of what’s happening in the story. However, suddenly, contrary information is inserted. A great use of this technique is in the television show, “This Is Us,” which switches back and forth among timeframes, events, and characters, using many flashbacks. This is not “straight-line,” chronological story development, but rather is a very effective, zig-zag and circular time warp way of story-telling.
In summary, once you choose a style, try to place yourself in the mindset of the character you are presenting. Become familiar with the associated environment, language, tastes, smells, sounds, cultural biases and cultural arts. Immerse yourself, and the words will begin to flow naturally.
I must say that I got so good at writing in the Voices of my bosses in various employment venues that one of them actually asked me to write a letter to his mother for him – as if it were he who wrote it. This was a middle-aged guy, for goodness sake! I refused him. However, I do provide other kinds of writing, reviewing, and editing services, so contact me, if you think I may help you. Chirp! Chirp!
Do It the Write Way! Let My Fingers Do Your Talking!