Updated: Jan 27, 2020
One chestnut of feedback I often end up giving when I pass on a project is that I wasn't captivated by the voice as much as I wanted to be. "Voice" is a vague element, though, that encompasses a lot of different things. There is also (to me, at least) something ineffable about a great voice that is hard to break down and articulate--it's something that you know when you see it. So then, how do you revise for voice?
For this month's tip, I thought about some key aspects of projects I've loved that have strong voices and when it came down to it, there were three bare-bones:
Writing - There needs to be lots of showing moments that indirectly let us know what a character is thinking, feeling, or experiencing. The best writing lets us infer these things for ourselves in order to create a closer connection with the character. When editing, I often tell my clients to highlight all the areas in the manuscript where they are telling something to the reader instead of showing them, and then go back and try to get rid of as many of those highlights as possible.
Character Development - It is important to make sure we understand and see a character's thought processes and emotions, otherwise they end up being two-dimensional and distant. When you revise, making a detailed character sheet can be helpful to really ground yourself in who your character is--their personality, how they think, their likes and dislikes, etc. Make sure your writing is imbued with your character's complex personality to create a unique, authentic voice.
Dialogue - Stiff dialogue or dialogue that not-so-discreetly serves as an info dump automatically takes the reader out of the story. Your dialogue needs to reflect not only how people talk in real life, but also how your character talks. Distinct dialogue is essential! If all your characters all sound the same, it will hard to create a voice that really stands out. Go back to that character sheet and make some notes about key elements of your characters speech to help nail down their dialogues. Even if some of the information you put down on the sheet never makes it into the actual manuscript, it will enrich your writing.
So when you are revising, take some time to think/outline and really get to know your characters and who they are. Ideally, you (and the reader) should feel connected to them and be able to envision how they might act in other scenarios outside of the story, as if they are old friends. If you are able to achieve that, then you have a manuscript with a fantastic voice! If you have any questions about revising for voice that you'd like me to answer, let me know in the comments section.