I started writing a memoir a few days ago. Yes, a memoir. Even to me, that sounds strange. I've always considered myself a fiction writer, and a fiction writer for children and young adults at that. So the idea of writing something so personal and for adult readers strikes me as odd. Who knows if I will finish it. Who knows if it will be accepted for publication. Who knows, who knows, who knows. The important thing is that I had something to say and I needed to say it. And I'm listening, to my own voice for a change as oppossed to listening to my character's voice. But what is the distinction?
In the case of fiction, voice is how your character expresses him or herself. Voice is their choice of words, their cadence and the patterns of putting sentences together. It's much like the way real people speak and it's identifiable and unique to the person doing the speaking.
In contrast, there is the writer's voice. The writers voice also includes choice of words, syntax and pacing, but it's also about a sense of style. I think we can all readily agree that when you pick up a Jane Austen novel and a Meg Cabot novel, that both women have different author voices that reflect the time period in which that author lived/lives, their sensibilities, values, culture and life experiences.
How do you find your own voice? While it's challenging, I believe it's something that happens with time and the practice of craft. After a day of being away from the memoir, I started working on it this morning. Reading a few passages I'd already written, it was as if I'd come to a cafe, sat down with an old friend, and picked up on the conversation from where we'd last left off. There was an automatic intimacy, as if I knew her, and knew how she/I spoke, and what were her concerns, dreams, values. It's this intimacy that we strive for in our work, that comes through our voices. It's this intimacy that our readers connect with and why they want to spend time with us, and in the worlds that we create.
If you're still seeking your voice, look to other authors whose work you return to over and over. You might be naturally attracted to their voice because it is similar to your own. Notice how they put sentences together. Are they short and clipped or long and flowing? Are chapters action packed and quickly paced or are does the author use long passages and delve deeply into the internal world of their characters? These are clues into your own voice and style. Follow the clues.