Voice – Do you hear what I hear?

Recently I saw a video by a comedian who was poking some fun at the Christmas carol “Do You Hear What I Hear.” The comedian joked about the impossibility of the lyrics – like the second stanza: “Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy” – at which point he demonstrated his view of what the lamb “talking” to the little boy would sound like. He baaaah’d, and he sang the lyrics in various tones, depending on the verse. It was pretty funny, and I would probably stick a link in here except that that’s not what this blog is about.

This blog is about writing, for writers, and about giving writers tools and examples of what we believe is solid, compelling writing and story-telling. But it struck me as I watched the video that he was giving a great demonstration of “voice,” that elusive quality that, to a writer, is one of the most influential means of capturing a reader’s interest. What good is a great plot if the reader doesn’t want to keep reading? That’s voice.

That’s a big topic for this time of year, a time when most of you won’t have much of that commodity (time) to read about voice, or probably much else, so I’ll try to keep this brief (for me!) and tackle just my definition of “voice” for now.

I always think of singers first when I hear the word “voice,” but I think you can make a solid comparison between a singer’s voice and writer’s voice.  You know how some singers just grab you with the tone of their voice, like you could hear them singing the phone book and you’d stop and listen? Likewise, when you hear someone singing in a voice that isn’t to your liking, it doesn’t take you long to shut it off (or scream, “Stop the torture!”), right?

Don’t you find the same thing when you’re reading? I do. I can read just a few pages of anything (a book, an article) and know whether or not I like that writer’s style, or voice.  It’s something in the way he or she puts the words together that makes me laugh or cry, or makes shivers travel up and down my spine. It’s flow and pacing, it’s word choice, and above all, it’s personality, whether it’s the author narrative or a character speaking.

I’m not a great singer and have never studied vocals, but I’m pretty sure that some people are born with a natural voice that others want to listen to. Others learn to develop a singing voice; they learn to stretch their range and bring richness to their tone.

It’s the same with writers. Some hear a story in their minds (in continually flowing words that don’t want to stop…ever). They hear not just the words, but a rhythm, a cadence, and they’re able to transfer the shouting in their heads to paper (or screen…whatever) with relative ease. Others are more visual and might see a story rather than hear it, and I think they find it more difficult to give “flesh” to those stories, to find the right words. But I also believe they have the ability to develop a voice that others will want to read.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll try to dig down a little into the elements of voice. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. What is your definition of voice?

Happy writing!

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After spending her life working with words in various roles in both government and the private sector, including a 10-year stint as a freelance line editor, lifelong grammar fanatic Leah Price is excited about putting her skills and knowledge to work in the publishing industry as author liaison for Edward Allen Publishing. She also writes commercial fiction under a pseudonym and knows how tough it is to get all the pieces in the story puzzle to fit, but she loves the journey.

2 thoughts on “Voice – Do you hear what I hear?

  • Great post, Leah. I like your analogy of hearing a singer. I’ll usually recognize an actor’s voice before his/her face. Voice for an author is so important. It’s what distinguishes her from other authors.

    • I absolutely agree, Diane. Someone once told me there are only something like 7 plots (broken down to the most elemental level). so it stands to reason that the author’s voice IS what distinguishes one story from another within a plot “family.” Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts!

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