Choosing Your Voice for a Writing Project

Things to Consider in Choosing Your Voice for a Writing Project

Definition of Voice

business coffee mugThe term “voice” is used to describe the style, tone, and format used in writing projects like literature, a presentation, or a theatrical production. There are many styles, and they can be combined. See what suits your purposes. Voice infuses personality into your work. By choosing your voice carefully, you can use it as a technique to provide continuity among seemingly unrelated events. You can use it to advance the scene from one situation to the next in a timeline. You also may employ it to provide the audience with a perspective which is different from what the characters “are seeing” while involved in the events you depict.

Author’s Voice

editing a documentThis form utilizes the author’s unique writing style or point of view. It may mimic the way a person speaks in face-to-face conversation, or the writer may adopt one or more styles for purposes related to the specific project. For example, the author may have some characters speak in a dialect related to their rural geographic location, while other characters speak in more sophisticated language, devoid of colloquialisms, demonstrating their higher education at an Ivy-League University.


Character’s Voice

This is the perspective of the main character. It is commonly used in narration style, using the point of view of the first and third person (I/We and He/She/They).  Example: An adult character in a movie may be speaking from off-screen. Only the voice-over (audio of the narration) is heard while the audience watches activities on the stage or screen.

Even though the narrator is an adult, the events being described may be things that happened during the character’s childhood. In this case, you may choose to have the narration performed in different physical voices and age-appropriate scripted viewpoints. Thus, the main character might talk in short, simple words in a child’s voice, like saying, “It was GREAT BIG!” As the character becomes a teenager, he or she speaks in full sentences or paragraphs in a more mature voice. Later, the speaker  – with increasing wisdom and compassion – is an adult, as the character ages within the story.


Stream of Consciousness Voice

This mode is a narrative voice that comprises the thought process of the characters. It is conversational, full of quirks of speech, and may use the ploy of breaking of grammar and punctuation rules. It purposely includes unnecessary words or phrases and can be uneven in following a timeline. The speaker may interrupt or repeat himself. It depicts a personality, as well as a stream of images. Here is an example.

“You know, the other day, I had a thought. I said to myself, “Self,” you gotta start doin’ your exercises,teen in bikini illustration” ‘cuz, you know I was thinkin’ back to the time when my grandma used to say, “Self!.. somethin’ or other.” So, I got into the habit of talking to myself by starting with ,”Self,….” Anyway, last year, I bought a gym membership. (Ask me the last time I went to a gym.) Anyway, the other day, when I had a thought, I thought, “Man, you’re gittin’ fat, so you better start doin’ your exercises. So, there’s this gym down the road, but I’m scared to go there, until AFTER I get in shape, ‘cuz there’s this cute boy who always works out there… So, here’s the plan….”


Unreliable Voice

Unreliable Voice is a technique used to trick the audience into thinking they know what’s happening and how the story will end, but then contrary information is inserted which surprises the audience and changes its mindset. You can use Unreliable voice to demonstrate a character’s complete misunderstanding of circumstances. However, that misunderstanding makes the character’s thoughts and actions seem reasonable, given that world-view.

A Beautiful Mind

The movie, “A Beautiful Mind” provides a great example. The audience initially believes all the characters are real and only later discovers some are the imaginings of a bi-polar mind.


Epistolary Voice

desktop with laptop, papers and hand holding penEpistolary voice employs documents or letters to tell a story in the desired sequence. Examples include diary entries, letters to a lover, or corporate documents confirming a cover-up of misdeeds. You may mix it with other writing styles in the same writing project, if you do it without seeming too incongruous or contrived. You could choose to use multiple persons’ voices or to have no narrator, as the documents “speak for themselves.” An example of the latter is a collection of poems, such as Walt Whitman created to describe the horrors of war or the beauty and nurture of nature.


Third-person, Subjective Voice

In this style, the narration is composed of the feelings, thoughts, and opinions of one or more characters, such as an off-screen narration by a grandfather looking at the scene of his grandson building a sandcastle on the beach and saying,

“I always knew that boy was gonna amount to something. I thought he’d be an architect one day, but that was before Rolling Thunder came to town.”


Third-person Objective Voice

In third person objective, a narrator tells the story without showing character’s feelings or thoughts and gives an unbiased, objective point of view. An example might be a detective, giving “just the facts, ma’am,” which are contrary to the actions and words of the characters on-screen. There could be an image of a loving husband and wife, kissing and wishing each other a good day with smiles and hugs. The narrator states simply that,

“As he leaves the house, his other wife, living in Chicago, eagerly awaits her husband’s return.”


waste paper basketYou will save yourself a lot of time, trouble, and wasted paper, if you choose a voice or voices for your project in advance, rather than “winging it. You also are more likely to save time and money with an editor and to appeal more engagingly with your audience. Try it! You’ll like experimenting with it! Sometimes, the voice helps the character live and grow inside of your consciousness to the point that it is as if that character were writing the story, not just you!

girl smiley face winkingI must say that I got so good at writing for 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 was writing. 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.

Do It The Write Way; Let My Fingers Do Your Talking!

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