What is Voice?

What is voice in fiction?

Writers are busy trying to find it. Editors will put a manuscript down if they don’t feel it. So, what is it?

To me, voice is simply what comes out when you stop writing as you and start writing as the character.

A more technical definition is the personality of the story. A good voice creates an emotional connection between writer and reader.

How do we develop voice in our stories? Here are a few pieces to the puzzle:


Diction is word choice. What words does your character use that show who they are? In one of my YA novels, a character named Ivy likes to make up words to call people she doesn’t like. Assjackets. Mouthbreathers. Meathheads.

Your character’s word choice says a lot about who he or she is. Maybe she uses words that most people would have to look up in the dictionary. Or maybe she uses a lot of slang.


When you write a story, you are writing from the perspective of a character. Again, you are not writing from your own perspective (mostly). What details you choose to reveal as part of setting or description will say a lot about your character’s perception. An adult might notice the ornate brass railing in an old ice cream shop, but a teen might notice that Sally Davis, the popular girl, is sitting at a table in the corner eating a triple hot fudge sundae.


Syntax is the structure of sentences. Maybe your character speaks in clipped, short sentences. Maybe they are long-winded and tend to give speeches. Even your sentence structure can give a feeling for the personality of the character.


This element is a lot like details in that what you describe is consistent with our character’s point of view. So, our character might say that the sundae Sally Davis was eating was a volcano of ice cream with a river of hot fudge lava pouring down the sides.


Tone is the feeling of the story, and it is made up, in part, of the elements we’ve discussed. But it’s also the relationship between writer and reader (chatty, distant, close). How does the reader feel when they are reading? Do they feel as if they’ve just met a friend or that they are listening to a lecture from a professor?

Whatever voice you choose to give your writing, be sure to be consistent, and carry it through the entire story. And remember that voice is not just in dialogue, it’s part of the narrative too.


Happy writing!


In a Perfect Word Editing

My name is Erin Beth Liles, and I have several years of editing experience. Aside from my bachelor's degree, I have a certificate in copyediting from UC San Diego, and I have studied developmental editing with the Author-Editor Clinic. I've worked with both independent and major publishing houses, but my true love is working directly with authors. I also write young adult fiction. My YA novel Phoenix Burning is represented by Mansion Street Literary (and I have another novel in progress) and my short stories have been published in Ladybug, Stories for Children, and Knowonder. Several of my nonfiction articles have appeared in Austin Family Magazine, Mothering Magazine online, and Mamapedia. My children's picture book A Friend for Freckles was published by Guardian Angel Publishing in 2013. My novelette, Outside the Walls, is featured in Clean Teen Publishing's Wonderstruck Anthology. I am a member of the Professional Editors Network, Copyediting, SCBWI, and She Writes.