For the Love of Voice

Marilyn Brant--author photo~ By Marilyn Brant

Note: This post originally appeared here

About a month ago, I read a fabulous piece on “how to craft a great voice” written by literary agent Nathan Bransford on his blog. Writers, if you haven’t seen this, you’ll want to check it out. Really. It’s one of the best explanations I’ve ever read, and I think it addresses the complexity of the subject very well.

He wrote, “Voice, at its most basic level, is the sensibility with which an author writes. It’s a perspective, an outlook on the world, a personality and style that is recognizable even out of context. You could drop randomly into a David Sedaris story or an Ernest Hemingway novel and probably guess the author within a few paragraphs because they have strong, unique voices. An author’s voice is often imitated (think: Tolkien), but a truly original voice can never be duplicated.”

LOVE that.

He also describes some of what he considers “the essential elements” of voice. These are abbreviated from his post (so, please, read the full version…), but they’ll give you a sense of what he suggests:

Style–the flow, rhythm, cadence of the writing; vocabulary, lexicon, slang and whether the author is wordy or spare

Personality–the unique way of seeing the world and choosing which details to focus on and highlight

Consistency–while it may get darker or lighter or funnier or sadder, it doesn’t suddenly shift wildly in tone

Moderation–even the strongest voices don’t over-do it, and they’re not just made up of repeated verbal tics

Transportation–a good voice envelops the reader within the world of a book

Authority–quoting from Ink: “For me, one of the absolutely key elements of voice is authority. With a great voice you know the writer is in control, so in control that the writer vanishes and you see only the story… A great voice carries you through the story, compels you through the story. I think all great voices have that… There’s a sureness to a great voice. The words are simply right and the rhythms of the prose are buoyant. You won’t sink, not with these voices.”

Originality–above all, a good voice is unique and can’t be duplicated, and it is also extremely contagious

Authenticity–this is the key to finding the voice: your voice is in you; it’s not you per se, but it’s made up of bits and pieces of you

Thank you, Nathan.

I also think there are certain themes that we and our favorite authors tend to focus on. It’s part of our unique perspective–those subjects that are so relevant to us that we MUST write about them. Personally, I loveexploring a woman’s journey of self-discovery as she tries to sift through the elements of her past and the relationships that shaped her worldview to come to a new understanding of her life in the present. I’m really hung up on characters learning to be honest with themselves, facing their fears and their fantasies, seeing and hearing each other more clearly. And I don’t think there’s a problem in the great universe that can’t be improved with the support of true friends, a little humor and the occasional piece of chocolate. So, while I truly love reading across genres, I’m always pleased when I find authors who write stories like these…

But what about you? What kinds of themes do you love to write about and/or love to read? Who are some authors whose writing voice you really enjoy? Please share!

Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction, romantic comedy, and mystery. She won RWA’s prestigious Golden Heart® Award for her debut novel, ACCORDING TO JANE, and was named Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She loves all things Jane Austen, has a passion for Sherlock Holmes, is a travel addict/music junkie, and lives on chocolate and gelato. Marilyn’s coming-of-age romantic mystery, THE ROAD TO YOU, was a Top 100 B&N bestseller and an homage to Historic Route 66. Look for her upcoming “Mirabelle Harbor” contemporary romance series, summer 2015! Visit her website

5 thoughts on “For the Love of Voice”

  1. Great article, Marilyn! Very informative. Like you, I LOVE voice, and not just the author’s but the character’s. I adore when the author is not afraid to use slang or convey a particular nuance to the character’s regional accent and colloquialism usage.

    As for themes, I just can’t help writing about redemption. Yes, even Wickham can be redeemed in my world of storytelling. LOL

    Wishing you all the best in your new series this summer!

    1. Oh, Cat, thank you for taking the time to comment and for your good wishes!! I’m so glad you liked the post and that you find the whole “voice” thing as thrilling to explore as an author as I do. Redemption hasn’t been a prominent theme in my stories, but I enjoy reading novels that feature it…even if that rascal Wickham is somehow involved, LOL 😀 . Actually, the complexity of his character has always made him interesting to me, and I find him compelling to read about in Austen-inspired stories!

  2. Thanks, Marilyn, for reminding me of how different writers bring their voice into the books they write. I love different categories of books. When I’m in the mood for a funny romance, I always head to my collection of Jennifer Crusie books (talk about an original voice). When I’m in the mood for a cozy romance, I usually find the latest of Rita Mae Brown or Carolyn Hart.

    I do find myself usually heading for themes centering around family and belonging. Pretty universal but I’m fond of them.

    Thanks for sharing this post.

    1. Tanya, thanks so much for your comments. I’m delighted you enjoyed the post! And I share your love of Jennifer Crusie books 😉 . I have most of her novels on my keeper shelf — she just does romantic comedy SO well. There are times when I need a laugh, and I can open up one of her books to any page and find a scene that makes me smile!

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