When you read, you hear the narrative in your head.
The voice you hear won’t be the idealised version of your own – you know the one you hear in your head when you’re rehearsing what you’re going to say to somebody? Like if you’re preparing for an argument with an internet provider, or a dispute with a utility over a bill, or a plea to somebody (a partner, a child, a friend) to do something.
It won’t be the author’s actual voice. The bulk of the time, you won’t know what the author sounds like, and have no frame of reference to draw upon. And even if you know the author’s voice – say it’s somebody popular who’s done plenty of interviews and speaking engagements, such as Stephen King – that’s not the voice you hear.
And it’s not some proxy – some voice actor trained for speaking, such as you’d hear in an audiobook, or in a voiceover for a commercial.
It’s the voice of the writing itself: it’s about how the author phrases concepts, how they articulate ideas, how they pace their content, how the content unfolds, etc., and then moves into the abstracts of how the author explores those ideas, the choices they make, and how they interpret and articulate their thoughts – all these are different facets that blend together to produce a voice that is distinctly the author’s own.
Think of music as an analogy. The band Chicago produces a certain sound, while Bon Jovi produces another, Lady Gaga another, and so on. If a song comes on the radio you’ve never heard before, you may get an idea who the artist is by the song’s sound. This is often the case, regardless of the sort of song it is, or how the singer sings it.
The band Queen has ballads, pop songs, hard rock, etc., but you can always identify them as Queen. In their classic, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, the music and Freddy Mercury alternates from this haunting ballad, to an operatic interlude, to heavy rock, but the music is always distinctly Queen, and the vocals are always distinctly Freddy Mercury.
The same applies to authors, regardless what they’re writing or how they experiment. Stephen King’s known for supernatural horror, but has also written psychological horror (Misery, Gerald’s Game), fantasy (The Eye of the Dragon), and urban fantasy/western (The Dark Tower series), but the voice is always identifiable as Stephen King.
How YOU write produces a voice. How well you write and achieve what you’re attempting defines how good that voice is, and how sharp and clear it sounds in a reader’s head. You’re not always successful. Established bands still release albums that don’t do well. Well-known filmmakers still make bombs. And authors can still release books that don’t work – sometimes, it’s just by a matter of the smallest margin, but it’s enough.
What’s important is that you always strive for something to be the best it can be.
And you always strive to be YOU.
Voice is arguably the last thing writers develop, because it’s the concentration of everything else.
But it’s the most important, because it’s a representation of you as a writer, and the way you uniquely identify and portray yourself.
Your voice matters.