What Is Voice in Fiction Writing?

Defining Author's Voice and Character's Voice in Literature

Reading in the clouds
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The term "voice" in fiction writing actually has two very different meanings:

  • Voice is the author's style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author's attitude, personality, and character; or

  • Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of the narrator of a work of fiction. Because voice has so much to do with the reader's experience of a work of literature, it is one of the most important elements of a piece of writing.

    What Is the Author's "Voice?"

    Your tone, choice of words, choice of content, and even punctuation make up your authorial voice. The author's voice is usually fairly consistent, particularly in third person narratives. As a result, it is usually possible to identify the author simply by reading a selection of his or her work.

    For example, the following is an excerpt from Charles Dickens' famous story . Notice that Dickens talks to the reader as if the reader could respond ("let any man explain to me..."), and is practical and even a little humorous in his description. He is also characteristically wordy:

    Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large. It is also a fact, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of London, even including—which is a bold word—the corporation, aldermen, and livery. Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley, since his last mention of his seven-years' dead partner that afternoon. And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change—not a knocker, but Marley's face.

    What Is a Character's "Voice?"

    Every person has their own individual way of putting together words, phrases, and ideas. These elements make up the person's "voice." Some people are authoritative; others are pompous, funny, chatty, warm, or a combine different qualities to make up a single complex personality.

    Authors must find a "voice" for each of their characters that is believable, appropriate, and consistent.

    In addition to being a master of narrative voice, Dickens was also highly regarded for being a writer who could create memorable character voices. One of Dickens' most famous characters was Uriah Heep from David Copperfield. Heep was a nasty character who called himself "'umble" (humble), but while he pretended to be humble and unambitious he actually had a scheme in mind for bettering himself:

    "'When I was quite a young boy,' said Uriah, 'I got to know what umbleness did, and I took to it. I ate umble pie with an appetite. I stopped at the umble point of my learning, and says I, "Hard hard!" When you offered to teach me Latin, I knew better. "People like to be above you," says father, "keep yourself down." I am very umble to the present moment, Master Copperfield, but I've got a little power!'"

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