Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why Voice is Important

Voice. The way your writing speaks. It's what agents all say they want. An authentic, strong voice. But how do you 'get' voice? How do you learn to imbue your writing with voice?

I don't have a clue.

I've been told my writing has a strong voice, and I'm happy about that, because to me voice is like being told you have pretty eyes. Thanks, dude, but they showed up when I did. I didn't have to go looking for it. (Now, plotting and pacing? I'm out looking for those guys every day.)

So, can voice be taught? And what's the difference between good voice and bad voice and weak voice? Again, I'm so not helpful here. It's one of those things I know when I see it/hear it. (Like, in the movie Reality Bites, when Winona Ryder is on a job interview and she struggles to answer the question, What is irony? She says she knows when she hears it. Crap. Just dated myself.)

But in my other, copywriting life, I've been working on explainer videos and this has given me insight to voice. An explainer video is exactly what it sounds like, a video that explains what a company does. This video is uploaded on to the company's site or Youtube and hopefully generates enough buzz to help get the word out and eventually get sales.

Below are two explainer videos for products that I think are successful all because of voice. They are both hard sells: Disposable razors and (I swear it's true) deodorant you spray into your toilet so your poop doesn't smell (so many issues with this product, so many ways it is wrong.)

Disposable razors are cheap and easy to come by - so why mail order them? This video answers that question.

A product called Poop-Pourri. In a sanitized world, we now have to sanitize our poop? This product is not for me...however. This explainer video made me curious, and more importantly it made the ridiculousness of the product funny - like I was in on the joke. It's really effective.

So, how do you work on voice in your writing?


  1. OMG. I saw that poopouri commercial the other day on youtube and thought it was a joke. I couldn't believe it was real. And it was funny for about the first 45 seconds, but then it goes on and on and on. But definitely some voice there! And I can't really describe voice either, other than to think of it as personality almost. A writer's sense of humor, intelligence, all comes through in the words they choose to communicate an idea with. :)

    1. yeah, I agree. the video would have been better shorter (and less gross) but when she says "yes, this is a real product" she hooked me because that's exactly what I was thinking! It's all in the voice ;)

  2. Holy crap!!

    Oh, wait, ugh!

    These are hilarious. I've often struggled with what it means to have a strong voice. I know it has to do with having a distinctive way of talking/thinking, but I'm never sure what is distinctive. *le sigh*

  3. As above, I'm not sure what it is. I do know it's the opposite of trying to make your characters sound like anything and - when their voices sound in your head, transcribing as faithfully as possible that sound. I often make the mistake of trying to either dumb down or smarten up a characters voice when I'm writing (and in my case, first person, the character's voice IS the novel's voice) I have to stop myself!


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