Years ago, when I was still beating my head against the wall while teaching English in the public classrooms of three different states, I attempted repeatedly to explain “author voice” to my students. I encouraged my students to write with clarity and directness, but most of them chose to open up the nearest thesaurus and choose a “plethora of linguistic samples that accentuated their meaning, including long Latinate words and involved syntax.” The appropriate voice is the one that is direct, clear, and unstrained. To explain this point further, I will “borrow” an example from Jo Ray McCuen and Anthony C. Winkler’s Readings for Writers, a personal favorite of mine from some 40+ years back.
What if Patrick Henry had said, “It would be difficult, if not impossible, to predict on the basis of my limited information as to the predilections of the public, what the citizenry at large will regard as action commensurate with the present provocation, but after arduous consideration I personally feel so intensely and irrevocably committed to the position of social, political, and economic independence, that rather than submit to foreign and despotic control which is anathema to me. I will make the ultimate sacrifice of which man is capable – under the aegis of personal honor, ideological conviction, and existential commitment, I will sacrifice my own mortal existence.” or
“Liberty is a very important thing for a man to have. Most people – at least the people I have talked to or that other people have told me about – know this and therefore are very anxious to preserve their liberty. Of course I cannot be absolutely sure about what other folks are going to do in this present crisis, what with all these threats and everything, but I have made up my mind that I am going to fight because liberty is really a very important thing to me, at least that is the way I feel about it.”
“I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”
Another favorite of my teaching days was William Strunk and E. B. White’s Elements of Style. It was a standard in many college classrooms of the later half of the 20th Century. In it, Strunk and White make a case for economy in word choices [something that drives me crazy when I am writing for the Regency period]. “A sentence should have no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short or that he avoid all detail…but that every word tell.”
Cervantes said, “All affectation is bad.” In other words, avoid embellishment. A natural unpretentious style is best.
“A voice in literature is the form or a format through which narrators tell their stories. It is prominent when a writer places himself / herself into words and provides a sense the character is real person conveying a specific message the writer intends to convey.” (Defining Voice from Literary Terms)
Sydney Bauer on Sophia Learning says,
The author’s voice is expressed through:
- word choice
- sentence structure/rhythm
- the figures of speech that the author uses (such as simile or metaphor)
- the author’s use of humor and irony
It is the personality of the writer shining through the characters, narrator, and descriptions.