Recently, I read an interview by an agent where the agent said that “Either you have voice or you don’t. It cannot be taught.” I’m going to go out on a limb here and disagree with this agent and quite a few people in the publishing industry. I think voice can be taught! However, it is probably the hardest thing to learn as a writer because it’s elusive and difficult to teach. That’s the reason I think that agents won’t sign someone whose MS is lacking voice. It can take years to try and teach someone how to write with voice and even then there is no guarantee that they will “get it”. The only way to learn voice is to…read.
According to Nathan Bransford’s How to Write a Novel, there are “essential elements that comprise a novel’s voice”. Here in his own words are what is needed:
Distinct Style–…sense of flow, a rhythm, a cadence to the writing, along with the vocabulary, lexicon, and slang that are used.
Personality— A unique way of seeing the world and choosing which details to focus on and highlight.
Consistency–A good voice is consistent throughout the novel. It may get darker or lighter or funnier or sadder, but it doesn’t suddenly shift wildly from whimsical to RAGEFUL….
Moderation–Even the strongest voices avoid over doing it. Voices are not simply made up of repeated verbal tics (“You know,” “like,” “so I mean,…etc.)as they are much more nuanced than this.
Immersiveness–A good voice envelops the reader within the world of the book. (This is my favorite advice from him and I think the most important!)
Authority–A voice has to be strong enough that a reader gives themselves wholly to the author and becomes lost in the book.
Originality–Above all, a good voice is unique and can’t be duplicated. Don’t sweat it if the originality of your voice doesn’t come right away, as you may have to keep writing to find it, but it should be there when everything is finished.
“There is only one way to find this great voice: keep writing.”