Voice and Style

updated on 02 December 2021

All my life I've looked at words as if I was seeing them for the first time.

Ernest Hemingway

What's voice?

Of all the effects that you attempt as a writer, 'voice' is the most important and the most elusive. 

Writing always sounds like something. Think of your writing voice as a version of your amplified singing voice. Rhythm, theme, sound, crescendo, reprise, and composition are also effects of writing. 

Voice represents how often you use metaphors and figures of speech. The length and structure of your typical sentence. If your words sound dispassionate or partisan.  If you write plainly to invite in all types of readers or with a slang for an exclusive club. 

Develop your own unique voice

Voice is your identity as a writer. It's integral to your writing and not an add on. Make it distinctive. Be authentic.

The best storytellers have a distinct voice. If you read Hemingway, you know it's Hemingway. 

To develop your own voice, pay attention to writers who you relate to you on websites, blogs, and social networks. 

What's style?

Style is not the same as voice. They're subtly different. Style is what creates a mood. It has a hypnotic feel to it. You might adapt your style based on what you're writing. Voice is more durable. It's an integral quality of a writer. Something that comes from within. Style is an external quality.

Try to ditch an assertive style for a playful style. A playful style denotes exuberance, laughter, fun, and entertainment.  Keep varying your style so it seems fresh and immediate and keeps the reader hooked.

Writing tip

Do you use 'I' to create a familiar voice? Or, 'we' to express the collective? Or 'you' to sound conversational? Or 'they' to seem detached? 

Writing in the first person carries the greatest authority because you're assuming responsibility for what you're writing. The trouble is that readers recoil from the pronoun 'I' because it reminds them that they're not experiencing what's written. The fix is to use first person but submerge the 'I.' Instead of "I heard the bells ring" say "The bells rang" or the "The bells began to ring". Write in the 1st person but weed out all the pesky I's.

Activity

Create an alternate online identity. Give your digital doppelganger a name and a writing style that's distinct from yours. Make a list of adjectives that would define your style. Like heavy, tentative, and aggressive. See what you learn.

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