Does Your Voice Change?

Note: Remember the post a while back on Voice Finding Techniques, based on Will Write for Shoes: How to Write a Chick Lit Novel by Cathy Yardley? We have a special treat today -- a guest post on voice, from Cathy herself! Cathy writes women's fiction in several genres. You can find out more about her at her website.

Livia was nice enough to post about some “voice-finding” exercises I had written in my book Will Write for Shoes. Reading the comments, someone had written that her voice changes when she writes different things. I suggested that even authors who write for different genres have a recognizable voice, or voice element, that serves as a through-line for all their work.

I mentioned it on an author’s loop, and we got into a spirited discussion of whether or not you can have “character authors” the way you have character actors – people who are noted for brilliant work, but who are also able to defy pigeon-holing by working in vastly different areas. There are very few authors who work across different genres with any degree of success. We attributed that to the readerships: genre readers tend to like seeing one kind of book from authors, and are unhappy when they shell out eight to twenty-nine dollars for a book that then isn’t at all what they were expecting. It’s not a matter of whether the author has the talent to branch out – it’s whether readers will accept a voice change.

Of the authors who could straddle different genres, the one I focused on was Margaret Atwood. She can write touching, startling women’s fiction, then smack you with a dystopian sci-fi with equal skill. But I also think that she has a very strong “voice” through all her work. It’s a little removed, almost aloof, which only underlines the usually brutal things going on. She’s got great descriptions and a clinically lyrical voice, is the only way I can describe it. Sort of a cold poetry. I love her work, although I can only read it in measured doses.

I’ve written within the women’s fiction genre: romance, Chick Lit, erotica, some YA. I’ve always dealt with stories that showcase women’s journeys. My voice tends to be humorous; Will Write for Shoes is probably the closest to my speaking voice. I also know that the humorous aspect has influenced my writing choices. Chick Lit and humor? Big yes. Slapstick erotica? Not so much, at least not according to my editor.

After speaking with my editor, I wrote darker, more intense stories. I’d like to think I was successful, but I also know it wasn’t as comfortable a fit. That doesn’t mean I’m trapped writing light and fluffy stories. It does mean that I’ll stuff banter into any situation possible; that if I don’t lighten my stories with some kind of humor it winds up as angsty as a teenager’s diary; and that I need to take my writing (and my life) a lot less seriously as a general rule.

How about you? How would you describe your writing voice? What’s your through-line?


  1. This was a really interesting post, especially as I am still struggling to find my own voice. I find that I also have a dry humour in my best writing, and when I try to write 'seriously' I end up waffling or just sounding pretentious. After reading this I will definitely be paying more attention to my voice next time I am writing.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. I think I might still be working on finding my voice, or at least articulating what it might be. I tend to write at a slight remove, eschew inner monologue, and strive for clean, simple prose. I like to let my characters' actions and words speak for them, with minimal editorializing. It's how I think and how I work, so that's comfortable for me.

    Huh. I just did articulate my voice. I guess that's my through-line, then. Thanks!

  3. Simon - I'm surprised you eschew inner monologue -- your paragraph for Nathan Branford's contest had some nice internal narration.

  4. Ah. I should have said my close third person writing eschews internal monologue. In the first person, it's expected, no?

  5. Lol -- that's an interesting challenge -- first person without internal monologue...

  6. I have a post scheduled for later this month on the conscious linguistic choices I make depending on the setting of the book... my overall 'voice', though, is fairly close to me talking. And is very similar whether I'm working on a novel, a travel piece, my blog, or my thesis.

  7. Great post! I'm not sure how I would identify my voice, but I know it when I see it :) When I try writing too far outside of my comfort-voice, it sounds stilted, too formal.

  8. My novels tend to be less dark than my poetry or short stories. But I'm sure my style or "voice" is still uniquely mine. It comes more from how my brain works than any design. I have to write how I write because to write another way won't work - my brain won't accept certain things, or won't "allow" me to write or see the world in ways outside of how it functions. So, that's how my stuff comes out.

    People who read my novels may be surprised by some of my poetry and short stories, but I think they'll still see the same kind of "style or voice" within it.

    Nice article.

  9. Good question. I've written YA, 9-12 and adult fiction and had to find appropriate narrative styles for each. I think they are all the same 'voice', ie similar in tone and use of humour, but the style for the younger age groups has to be simpler. It's an interesting exercise to flip between them.