Let’s talk about voice.  No, not the TV show. The ‘voice’ that comes through in your story. Your book. And I don’t mean reading it out loud. I mean what YOU bring to the story.

Ever ask anyone to define voice? Most times I’ve gotten something along the lines of, I can’t tell you what it is exactly but I know it when I see/read it. Or, have you tried to explain voice to a newbie author? Yeah.

Okay, so here’s my take on voice.   

There are layers of voice in a book.

First is the author’s voice. It’s how you, the author, tells the story. Ten people can be eye witnesses to an event. Each will give a somewhat different account. It’s according to their world view. The way their experience leads them to see and understand the world.

Edna St, Vincent Millay said:  A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with their pants down.

How come? Because in writing we reveal our own world view. How we feel about events going on around us. Not so much the events. A tree falling is a tree falling. But in the telling of the tree falling you reveal feelings, perceptions and the process of dealing with the event. Your voice.

We don’t need to be a serial killer to write about one. The emotions and how you deal with them in your story reveals how you feel about serial killers. Your voice.

Second is the character’s voice. Each character having a distinct voice is important.

Ernest Hemingway said, When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.”

In order for me to do this I have to know my characters. I take James Scott Bell’s definition of voice to heart. “Character background and language filtered through the author’s heart and rendered with craft on the page =voice.” 

 To find a character’s voice I create a world view for them. Give them values, secrets, fears, misguided beliefs and so on. The characters become real to me.

This is the way I create emotional connections with the reader. Make them feel something. It’s said people will forget what you do, say, and write unless you make them feel when you do, say, and write something.

When someone says the voice wasn’t strong, I believe what they’re saying is the author failed to make them strongly feel something.

Since I said we have our own world views we more than likely have different views on what voice is. Please share yours and any books you find helpful.  

My go to books for studying voice are: Voice by James Scott Bell and Finding Your Voice by Les Edgerton.     



Rita writes about extraordinary women who wear dog tags. 





30 responses to “Voice”

  1. Kathy Crouch says:

    I always tried to understand what they meant by be true to your voice and stuff. I could sit there and read it, but I’m scratching my head going HUH?
    Thanks Rita for clearing up a little bit of the muddle and confusion for me. I’ve only been writing since 2005 or so. People throw terms around and expect you to understand instantly. Nope I didn’t get it.

  2. Addison Fox says:

    Rita – this is such a wonderful post – I love how you’ve made tangible this intangible *thing* we call voice.

    It’s so true – we all have a different view of the world. How we express that and bring it to life on the page is so individual. It’s that indefinable element that I love discovering in writers I’ve not read before and that I equally love going back to with authors whose work I’ve been reading for years.

    Thanks for all these great reminders of what makes us each unique as authors!!

  3. Alyssa Henderson says:

    Fantastic post Rita! Thank you for sharing 😊

  4. Heather McCollum says:

    Thanks, Rita! I love the quotes and your description of something that’s often hard to explain.

  5. Great post, Rita! Hearing the term drove me nuts when I began to write for publication. I was told in every contest I’d entered that I had a strong voice. I thought it had to do with my characters’ POV. DUH me. Voice was all me and every experience I’ve ever had.

    I think it’s a real challenge for a writer to pull back on their voice and let a character’s voice take over, especially when the character believes something you do not. Doing that is something I’m striving to accomplish.

    I love Hemingway’s quote BTW. I’m going to post that nearby.

    • Rita Henuber says:

      We forget how hazy writing terms can be. I don’t know if I do a good job of pulling back. Every day I struggle with all this stuff. But…I love it. 🙂

  6. Elizabeth Essex says:


    I never understood voice until my critique partner defined it with this quote from Goethe: “All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own.”

    I re-read that quote to help me to trust my voice and let the story unfold. Thanks for the wonderful reminder!

  7. Rita, you have done an excellent job defining/explaining voice, something I often have trouble doing. Thank you for writing about and sharing this topic.

  8. Fascinating post on a fascinating intangible, Rita. It’s so hard to define voice, but that is what draws me back again and again to my favorite authors.

  9. Jennifer Bray-Weber says:

    What? Are my pants down? Ack!I’ve been told I have a cinematic voice. I’ll take it.
    Great post, Rita. Love the quotes, too.

  10. June Love says:

    Rita, what a wonderful description of voice!

    The definition of voice clicked with me when a family member, who is an avid reader with an English Lit degree, read the first chapter of my WIP. When she handed the pages back to me, she said, “You do realize you lost your voice after the first few pages, don’t you?” She was right. The first few pages were mine, but the last part had been heavily critiqued by a group in which I belonged. The latter part of the chapter was their voice. Not mine. Not only did I grasp what voice meant, but I also learned that you have to careful not to lose your voice when being critiqued.

    • Rita Henuber says:

      I totally understand. I had a lot of people telling me how I ‘should’ be writing. It’s confusing when you first begin. I was fortunate to have a multi-pub’d author take me aside and set me straight. 🙂

  11. Tamara Hogan says:

    Great post, Rita!

    One of the best examples of ‘voice’ I’ve seen recently are tweets sent from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account. You can easily tell when Trump writes the tweets himself vs. when they’re written by soneone else. 🙂

  12. I love the quotes you shared, Rita, as well as the one Elizabeth posted above. For me, voice has kind of been an intangible quality that I understand more as I read more by different authors. Thanks for sharing!

    • Rita Henuber says:

      Yes it is intangible when we begin. I’d like to see that change with newbies learning how important voice is. What an influence it has on your writing.

  13. Gwyn says:

    A simplified and understandable take on a complex subject. Well done, you. I’ve spent hours reading about and mulling this subject, and your distillation is the best I’ve seen.

  14. Julia Day says:

    Love that quotes from JS Bell!

  15. Darynda Jones says:

    I love this, Rita, thank you! I’m one of those who knows voice when she reads it but can never really explain it. Thanks for this take!

  16. Hi, Rita! I’m a NYUS voice and I loved seeing your name in “print.” Your list of helpful acronyms is great–struck by how short tis the list of major publishers.


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