Voice is a fairly intuitive term, yet many find it difficult to quantify and describe. Your voice when you write is like your voice when you speak. Everyone’s voice is different. Some people have an iconic voice that’s very identifiable. Others can emulate a wide repertoire of character voices and accents. Each end of the spectrum is valuable in its own way.

Your voice is comprised, among other possibilities, of the topics you like to write about, the characters you gravitate to, the way you write dialogue, and the touchstones you use in descriptions. Kinks are also a part of your voice, in that they describe intellectual boundaries that may also recur in your work.

Voice is distinct from style. Style refers to the diction of your piece—which words you select, and why. Style also includes other concrete choices you make in your manuscript, including how you use punctuation. You can read Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft and/or Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook for more in-depth explorations of the linguistic features that combine to form your unique style.

Because your voice is distinct, even if you shift your style across various pieces, there will always be a core of the story that is yours alone. When linguists talk about vocal qualities, we call that the voice’s fundamental frequency. Others can vibe with you on that level if they want to hear voices like yours. In linguistics, we also take note of the harmonics of a voice, which are the echoes of a voice at each octave interval. Others can also vibe with you on the idea levels behind your voice and stories.

I don’t typically speak in absolutes, but, in my opinion, there are two important skills you must develop as a writer: how to trust your voice, and how to be persistent. Resilience is a topic for another course. As for voice, remember that you are like the Little Mermaid: your voice is valuable, yours alone, and the item that gives you your greatest agency. It doesn’t matter how you speak or whether your words are pretty. It matters that you let your voice come through fully.

Reading comprehension exercises

  1. Identify at least two recurring themes throughout your work.
    1. Reflect on why you’re interested in telling stories about those themes.
  2. Identify at least one recurring symbol in your descriptions.
    • For example, Haruki Murakami often lingers on describing ears.
  3. Identify at least one what-if question that you have set out to answer multiple times through your work.
    • For example, my New Angeles series, and many of my other stories, are a response to the question, “What if Los Angeles is destroyed and people have to survive through the aftermath?”