Lately, I’ve noticed something about my own writing style. Mechanics—particularly tense—affect my voice. Voice is that intangible thing for which agents and editors all cry out. But when pressed, it’s hard for anyone to define voice. To be clinical, voice may be your way of putting words together to create the story; it involves the choices you make when scrawling one word after another that, at first glance, has little to do with characters, plot, theme, or syntax.
But is that right?
I have several short stories published in magazines (you can find them at http://www.jessiepeacock.com/bookshelf.html). I’ve noticed that each one has a slightly different voice. Does that mean I’m an underdeveloped writer? That I’m still finding my way?
But I also noticed that the mechanics that I chose to use in each story drastically influenced my voice. In one of my favorites, “Fishing” (published by LITSNACK), I decided to write in present tense. That’s not my usual tense of choice. I’m a lover of the past tense. You’ll notice in the story that the sentences are terse and clipped. The voice is well-defined, but it is not necessarily my usual voice.
By contrast, my story “The Five Stages of Thirst” (published by Midwest Literary Magazine on page 45) is written in the past tense. There is more description, though not necessarily more imagery, and the sentences are longer and more varied. The voice, again, is well-defined, but it’s different than the voice captured in “Fishing.”
I see plenty of writing articles commanding writers to “find your voice.” I certainly agree that a piece of fiction will fall flat on its face without a vibrant, mesmerizing voice, whatever the voice actually is. But I wonder if writers’ voice is dependent on many things one wouldn’t think to be related to voice. Consider J. K. Rowling. If you have read the Harry Potter series and then her newest release, The Casual Vacancy, you might notice a definite shift in voice. Some Rowling fans were so startled by the difference their loyalty was lost, or at least cast into doubt.
Having an inconsistent voice (between pieces) is not necessarily a sign of a mediocre writer. Rowling is undeniably talented. But it can be very risky.
Have you noticed shifts in your writing voice that seemingly come from mechanics or other aspects of the piece you’re writing? Do you think it’s critical to develop one voice and stick to it for the rest of your writing career? Let me know what you think!