One of the hardest things to describe — and to develop — as a writer is voice. Great characters tug at our heartstrings with their endearing quirks or unique perspectives; well-written settings make us feel like we are there; and gripping plots keep us dying to know what will happen next. But voice is ingrained in the writing itself, in the way the story is told or the scene is described. If you’ve read something by a writer with a strong voice, you’ll probably be able to recognize anything else that writer has written from just a few sentences.
Because voice is so unique and personal, I can’t recommend any books that will help you develop your own voice. The best advice I can give for that is to write, and keep writing, and eventually you’ll start writing in your own voice without even realizing that’s what you’re doing. However, I can recommend some examples of great voices, for those of you who are still trying to figure out what exactly a writer’s voice is.
When I think of voice, Tim O’Brien is the first writer that comes to mind. The Things They Carried, O’Brien’s fictional account of the experiences of an American platoon during the Vietnam War was one of the first books I read in college, and was arguably the one that had the strongest impact on me. Recently, I picked up another of O’Brien’s books for the book club I run at our library, and it was like catching up with an old friend. In the Lake of the Woods is completely different from The Things They Carried, but after only one paragraph I was caught up in the O’Brien-ness of the prose.
The next writer I think of when I think of voice is one I’ve mentioned ad nauseum already on this blog — John Green. I won’t waste time beating a dead horse here, but any of Green’s readers will understand why I think of him when I’m thinking of strong, unique voices.
Another great example of voice is Rainbow Rowell. She’s written young adult, new adult, and adult novels with great success (a range I wish I had!), but all of them have the same feel to them as far as voice. Eleanor & Park is darker than Fangirl, and Attachments will have you laughing instead of crying, but the writing has the same feel in all three books.
In general, when I’m looking for authors with great voices, I look for books that won the Printz Award or Printz Honor. These are exclusively young adult books, but they are recognized solely for their literary merit — in other words, they’re chosen for the writing itself. If you want great voice, these books won’t disappoint.
What authors would you recommend as masters of voice?