Some writer’s tones are incredibly distinctive, and their sentence structure, length, word choice, and the way the paragraphs flow are original to their writing. In a longer literary work, readers will likely come across different voices as writers create different characters.
Definition of Voice
Voice is the style an author uses when they’re writing. It is unique to each writer, but some have a more defined voice than others. Authors like Toni Morrison have an easily recognizable voice and are celebrated for it. It’s often the author’s voice that brings a reader to their work over and over again.
Author’s Voice or Character’s Voice?
When considering the difference between the author’s voice and the character’s voice, it’s important to pay attention to when one is used. A character’s voice is specific to a character in a literary work. It is created in order to define them as an individual. Readers should be able to tell the difference between major characters based on their dialogue. One character might be well-educated and prone to using large words, while another might have more basic education and find the former’s use of language elitist.
The writer’s voice is seen through the use of exposition and narration. If they use third-person narration, specifically, and are not writing from a persona’s perspective, readers should pick out features of the writer’s style. Readers should also consider the use of point of view in a novel. This may play more into the writer’s style than anything else.
Examples of Voice in Literature
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a wonderful example of the author’s voice. In this novel, readers will note Twain’s use of sarcasm, wit, and humor. There is often more to the character’s words than one might initially interpret. Consider these lines from the novel:
So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter–and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone.
Read Mark Twain’s poetry.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Sun Also Rises is one of Ernest Hemingway’s most commonly-read novels. In it, readers can find examples of his characteristic prose. His writing is well-loved for its short sentences, economical use of language, and direct tone. He does not use flowery language or overindulge in descriptions. This is a result, scholars believe, of his training as a journalist. Consider these lines from the novel:
You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed with sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes.
Here, readers can see Hemingway’s short sentences and direct approach to his subject matter. There is no way to misinterpret this example of his writing. His work is also known for the “iceberg theory,” a style of writing that relies on allusions and the reader’s ability to look in-between the lines for clues.
Read Ernest Hemingway’s poetry and Hemingway’s best books.
“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
In this chilling short story, readers can find a great example of an unreliable narrator, a very specific character voice. The writer uses a first-person narrator, someone who is deeply troubled and who committed a murder. He tries to explain away what he did throughout the story, failing to convince the reader that he’s not insane. He’s raised towards a specific point of view and is consumed by his disgust for the old man and then later his guilt about his murder. Here are a few lines from the story:
And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense? –now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.
Poe is not the narrator of these lines. Although readers can find hallmarks of his style, the speaker is entirely invented. He’s a character used to convey the consequences of guilt and the results of madness.
Explore Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry.
Consider how the author’s language makes you feel, whether it’s tense, flowery, descriptive, haunting, or other related terms.
You describe the voice in writing based off of the writer’s use of grammar, sentence structure, literary devices, word choice, and perspective.
It is the style in which they write in addition to their use of literary devices, the structure of sentences, and more.
Some of the different types include: inspirational, promotional, cynical, slightly paranoid, optimistic, regular speaking voice, and pretentious.
It is a generally disliked grammatical construction of sentences in which the “object” comes before the “subject.”
Related Literary Terms
- Genre: a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.
- Stream of Consciousness: a style of writing in which thoughts are conveyed without a filter or clear punctuation.
- Style: the way a writer writes. An individual writer’s style is original and unlike any other.
- Subjective: refers to a particular point of view. It is based on someone’s personal opinions and beliefs.
- Third Person Point of View: a literary style in which the narrator tells a story about a variety of characters.
- Confessional Poetry: a style of poetry that is personal, often making use of a first-person narrator.