Voice is something everyone's looking for, but that everyone's struggling to define. Many people insist that they should find their author's voice before they start writing. Mmm... maybe. If you're writing about themselves or non-fiction.
To me, though, Voice is a given story's tone and mood. It's responsible for the way a story feels. I believe that if the story's fiction, this feel should be determined by its characters. Not the author. The author shouldn't be seen at all.
Instead, the Voice lets the reader gain insight into the character. Because writing he/she/it is a bit tedious when done repeatedly, I'm calling today's character Tom.
Now. To nail Tom's voice, we'd need to look at his likes and dislikes. We need to take into account what excites him. What bores him? What sort of person is he like? Straight and to the point? Or is he poetic? You can ask a million questions about this guy's personality and about a million of them will have relevance to his Voice.
Think I'm kidding? Watch this.
This is me the author.
Tom saw a pretty girl at the bar. She sat alone, drinking a cocktail. The barman kept glancing her way.
This is from the point of view of Tom, the slightly arrogant, but not unlikable (at least not to me) alpha-male.
Today, a lone babe occupied his usual seat. Not that he minded. It would give him a fun night buying her more of those pink drinks she drank. Maybe it would lead to a pay-off, maybe not. In the meantime, he sauntered over to her side and ordered a straight bourbon, sending a too-bad look to the barman, who'd been eyeing her too.
Now. To Tom, the shy, thoughtful, sensitive guy with a confidence problem.
Simply put, the woman sitting two bar stools down was... well... stunning. A touch of elegance completely out of place in this tacky pub. She sat with her posture gracefully straight, sending coy little smiles to the barman, who obviously enjoyed the attention. Lucky guy. He'd probably get her number while Tom spent the rest of the night wishing he had the guts to introduce himself.
Same scenario. Same author. Two very different characters. What part of those paragraphs made up the voice?
To me, everything.
Tom1 has a more direct approach. Shorter sentences. Often shorter words as well. Also, it's clear what his aim is. And the moment he's next to the girl, he stakes his claim.
Tom2 has longer sentences. He spends more time thinking about something than Tom1. He also keeps his distance, regretting his choice to do so.
All of those factors add up to the two Toms' voices. Because all of them add up to what we'd use to tell the two of them apart. The sounds of their narrative voices, as it were.
I'm not saying you need to nitpick every single word you draft, trying to make every sentence conform. What I am saying is that you'll need to get to know your character. Not only the stuff you thought you knew. Use your rough draft to find out everything the character shows you. And then when you edit, make sure that everything he thinks, says and does fits with how he or she sounds in your head.
Yep, the concept really is as simple as that.
Best of luck with the application!
If you want to practice, though, write the example sentences I wrote from the PoV of Tom, the nice guy who's wondering if he should make a move. Feel free to leave in the comments.
Anyone else have tips on nailing the Voice?