I recently heard a new writer say, “I’m not querying agents or editors. My story is so original, I wouldn’t want anyone to steal it.” She went on to explain she was planning to self-publish because this book was going to be so big, she wanted to make all the money herself. Now I’m not saying her premise isn’t groundbreaking, her writing isn’t brilliant or her e-book won’t make a gizillion dollars. JK Rowling, Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyers have proved that all things are possible in the writing world. I will argue on one point—no one else can write her book even using her premise and a stolen plot outline. Not even close. Each writer has his or her own voice and that’s why the same stories can be told over and over and still be fresh and interesting.
Many times agents’ and editors’ response to queries include something like, “I love your voice,” or “I didn’t respond to your voice,” and new writers often wonder what the hell they’re talking about. So what is voice? I once heard Jayne Ann Krentz say that voice was more than just prose style, that it was tone, theme and values as well. I'm certainly not on her level, but bear with me as I try to show-not-tell what I think it is.
Last fall two movie versions of the Snow White story were released about the same time. You know the basics—beautiful young princess, evil queen, seven little people—all male—and a handsome prince/love interest. I thought the idea of making Snow White movies at all was shaky, and two at once was just absurd. Then I saw clips of each and (shameful confession) was tempted to go see them. The trailers for these two movies dramatically point out how differently two voices can tell the same story. You may respond to one more than the other, or to both in different ways. But all the elements—dialogue, action, cast, photography, special effects, costumes—working together to create a film that communicates a vision is its makers’ voice.
In Snow White and the Huntsman, Charlize Theron plays an evil queen who is so obsessed with eternal youth, she sends a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth…yep, as in THOR) to find Snow White so she can inhale her essence and gain immortality. Dark and violent, this isn’t your Disney cartoon story.
The other flick, MIRROR, MIRROR stars Julia Roberts as the conniving queen who banishes Snow White and tries to trick Prince Charming (Armie Hammer) into marrying her because she’s broke. Add Nathan Lane as the queen’s servant and you’ve probably figured out this clip has a completely different tone.
So that's my take on voice. I'd love to hear what you think.
Are there any authors you would know just by reading a paragraph or page of their writing? Directors you recognize by their style? If you’re a writer, how do you see your own voice?