Author Voice vs. Character Voice - Finding Both

Photo by Stefan Powell

Voice is one of the most sited components of writing a great story. Publishers/agents are looking for a strong voice, a fresh voice, a clear voice, etc. Unfortunately, it's also one of the things that we as writers struggle with and stress about the most.

I think the first thing that confused me early on was the difference between author voice and character voice. At first, I thought they were the same thing. They're not.

Author voice "encompasses word choice, rhythm, pacing, style, tone and structure." (source)
Character voice also affects word choice, rhythm, and pacing. But in character voice those things are influenced by the character's background, gender, history, age, education, regional location, time period, etc.

Crystal clear, right? *snort*

Finding Author Voice

Okay, maybe this will help, because it definitely helped me. I attended a workshop once where the author explained author voice by saying that you could pick up any one of her books no matter what the subject/character/plot and know that she wrote it.  

For instance, I've read Richelle Mead's Succubus Blues. I'm a huge fan of her YA Vampire Academy books, but this was the first time I read any of her adult books.  The story and characters are completely different, but the quirky sense of humor and style are still there.  I could tell they were both written by the same author, so I'm "hearing" her author voice.

Think of an Aerosmith song or a U2 or a Nirvana. Even without the lead singer's voice to give it away, the songs all have a certain style, a particular way the instruments are played. Do all the songs sound the same? No. But they all have that band's "voice".

And you have one, too!  We all do.  Your voice is who you are. You just have to make sure it gets onto the page.

My author voice is wry and casual. My style matches that--I use deep POV, like using some incomplete sentences for impact, and have a lot of dialogue.  And though I tackle very heavy and dark topics at times in my stories, humor will always be present.   

Why? Because that's who I am. Humor is my go-to defense mechanism even when things aren't going so well. Sarcasm is my favorite pastime and self-depracation is a way of life for me. I can't escape my voice.

So there's good news in that! Voice just is. (Read your own blog, you'll probably see your voice shining through. Or if you want a great example of a unique blogging voice, go visit Chuck Wendig's blog.) We can hone it and analyze it and strengthen it but our author voice is already there. It's who we are. 

The only thing that gets in the way is when we try to imitate some other author's voice. "I want to write books just like..." It's good to study other people's writings and pick out what you enjoy about it, but be careful not to let what you "think" your voice should be overtake what it actually is.  You can never be such and such author, you can only be you.

Finding Character Voice

So, if author voice is just waiting there to be discovered, what we probably need to worry about more is making sure we have an accurate character voice for each of our players. 

To do this, we need to analyze our characters, get into their head, know their history. As one of my handy dandy critiquers pointed out a while back about one of my characters: she's from the south, she wouldn't say "you guys", she would say "y'all". Of course, I know this (being southern and a over-user of y'all) but I lost her voice for a minute trying to sound more proper. These are the small nuances we have to watch out for. If our characters don't sound believable, we'll lose the reader. The character's education, gender, situation all play a factor. 

Well, that's my take on the whole thing, but I'd like to hear your opinions.

How would your describe your author voice?  Do you struggle to nail it down or is it one of those things that comes naturally?  Which authors voices do you totally envy?

*This is a revamped version of a post from Sept. 2009.  Thanks to Sierra Godfrey's post today for sparking the idea to pull this one out of the vault.*