What is “Voice” ?
Usually when we talk about voice, we are talking about something that goes beyond “active,” “passive”, or “reflexive” (middle) voice. In writing, you can think of voice as that dialog that you, the writer, are having with the reader. Your voice, as it appears on the page, needs to connect with the reader in a unique way, so that the reader can see the story unfold. The narrative element is often referred to as “the narrative voice,” implying that voice and the narrative element are the same. I think that voice is important enough to be differentiated from the narrative element, though the boundary is blurry. You can think of the narrative element as the content – rhythmic and meaty – and the voice as the visceral quality that makes the narrative, the dialog and themes memorable, and causes the story to come alive.
What to look for:
- Who are the characters? Can you identify their problems, weaknesses, strengths, flaws, quirks, their goals and their dreams? (What do the characters want?) Do you care what happens to them? Do you feel passionately about any or all of them?
- Can you clearly identify the protagonist, the antagonist, impact characters, and other important characters? Do each have a clear purpose?
- Is there authenticity of voice? Who is telling the story?
- Is the voice active, passive, reflexive or other? Is it consistent, and does it work? (Passive voice really never works.)
- Are the characters revealed? Are there any “data dumps” that are used to describe or reveal something about any of the characters? Can these be changed?
- Can you identify and track the main character’s emotional arc through the story? Is the emotional arc realistic and appropriate? Does the emotional arc follow the story arc (and major plot points)?
- Does the main character’s emotional growth and change drive the conflict of the story? Are there any times when the character is simply reacting to conflict? Does the character find the inner or external strengths needed to overcome the conflict(s)? Are the changes timely and smooth? If not, what makes the change work (does it work?)
- Does the main character change? Does the main character achieve his or her main goal? Does it happen believably, organically?
- Does the dialog bring emotion to the story? Does each character have his own voice – can you almost always tell which character is speaking (even if you didn’t have the tags, could you tell?)
- Does the dialog have a natural rhythm? Does it map to the tension in the story? Does it contribute to the conflict and tension? Does it move the plot forward?
Is “mutual influence” apparent when two characters communicate? Do you feel that the characters see and hear what the other is saying? Is the dialog communicative?