A Word On Voice

Voice. Oh, man.

Voice.

What is ‘voice’ when you’re a writer? How do you obtain and maintain a voice, capture the essence thereof, speak with it and be heard, actually heard?

Voice is written and expressed in myriad fashions – it’s our existential thumbprint. It’s what separates all of us into more unique human beings. A writer’s voice is something that moves others into literary submission. And if you’ve got a strong voice, all it takes is a whisper for people to hear you.

Imagine.

All it takes is a whisper.

There are several billion people on this planet, each with a default voice. We communicate the same set of emotions, expressions, fears, and dreams with that default voice, and it’s a thin layer, a surface level, on which the human voice generally operates. It can be polite conversation, a heart-to-heart, or merely a ‘hello’ in passing. Everyone is capable of using this sort of ‘voice.’

The artist’s voice is deeper than that, varied in its depth. Its ultimate goal is to move its recipients into an impossible place, world, or emotion. It’s telepathy executed to the tune of a specific lullaby. Some people will identify with this lullaby. Some will merely hear it, acknowledge it. Some will remain deaf to it for the entirety of their existence.

The writer’s voice is particularly hard to ascertain, as everyone is capable of writing a word or set of words, just as everyone is capable of participating in polite conversation like I mentioned. Everyone can say ‘hello’ and everyone can write ‘hello.’ The point at which a writer has a ‘strong’ voice – or a voice at all – is literally a matter of determining who can arrange 26 letters of the alphabet in a manner that is agreed upon by a populace to be more appealing than how the next guy arranged 26 letters of the alphabet.

That’s really trippy if you think about it hard enough.

Seriously, think about that.

One writer could look at a woman drinking coffee and describe it exactly as it’s happening, and everyone would probably agree on the description. The emotional value of that description might be neutral, but hey – it’s accurate and so it is sufficient.

Another writer could somehow interpret the same woman drinking the same coffee exactly as it’s happening, but in a way that’s… more than sufficient. There’s tone. There are lyrical word choices. There’s bite and grit and malice, beauty and charm and lacy melody. There are decisions being made in a literary sense that it’s actually above the reader at first, a flit of magic unnoticeable to the naked eye until everything just blossoms at the end, concludes with a reverberating chill down the spine.

It’s not just a woman drinking coffee anymore. It’s a story about a human being. It’s a story other human beings want to hear and relate to; it’s a story human beings want to remember and hold close to beating hearts because they now believe it’s just added to and emotionally affected their existence as a human fucking being.

That’s voice.

Don’t be sufficient. Don’t ever be sufficient.