A writer’s “voice” is a difficult thing to explain but you know it when you hear it / read it. Compare the voices of Jane Austen, Anh Do, Liane Moriarty and James Herriot: all of them are very distinctive. They’re the kind of voices you might guess easily if you started a new book with no author name on the jacket.
So what is it?
The voice is the way the words are constructed (syntax). It’s the words that are chosen or left out. It’s the tone, it’s the style, it’s the dialogue, it’s the humour (or not), it’s the spareness or the abundance of words, it’s the details that are fixated on or overlooked. It’s the content, too. It’s the themes, pace, punctuation, familiarity or formality, local/regional dialect and so much more.
It’s very much about authenticity. It’s also a big part of your ‘band’; it’s that thing that will shape your reading audience (draw people to you or not). A consistent voice allows a reader to trust you and relax into a story with a feeling of trust in you. Your subject matter can change, of course, but your voice will carry through across the body of your work.
The voice is the thing that makes you the writer YOU are and it takes time to develop. You find it by writing a lot of words. Short stories are a perfect place to practise your voice. Your voice might change over time, even after you’re published, and that is normal too, though it would be unusual, I think, to have vast variation in voice. But if that was the case, you would probably choose to write under a different pen name so as not to alienate your dedicated audience.
These days, I have a pretty good instinct about when I have slipped out of my voice, when the words just aren’t hitting the page in a very ‘Jo Moon’ way. The voice is the thing I’ve come to trust, even if it’s taking me to places in the story that scare me. I’ve come to know that if I follow my voice, I’ll be okay.