I hear voices inside my head. I hear the voices, like a wind chimes, of my characters, each one clamoring for attention, for his or her story to be told. I hear my mother’s voice, although she has been dead for several years, giving me advice, admonishing me for not hanging up my jacket right away; I hear my friend’s laughter and my high school teacher’s stern, “Rewrite, get it right”, and my baby’s giggle. All these voices, harmonizing, real and imaginary, are part of me, my thought processes, my conscience, my attribute as a writer.
One of my favorite topics of writing is the “voice”. Most of us use our voice to communicate with one another. A writer, musician, artist, develops a voice within the art to share something important with the listener. The hard part for most writers and artists is to know what is my voice? Sometimes an artist will find his or her individual voice, paradoxically, by initiating another artist, until that moment the true voice is realized. The artist’s voice is the most distinctive and unique feature of a writer, as well as the artist, musician, the actor, the orator, and characters in literature and film. A person who cannot vocalize, still has a “voice”—-interestingly enough, the definition for verbalize and vocalize applies to the spoken and written word. So what then is “voice”, if it is not merely words said out loud?
There are different voices, variations of tones, layers of definitions, for the many genres: in writing—prose, non-fiction, fiction, poetry—music, painting, visual arts and crafts, dance, graphic arts, photography, to name some, each with a voice within its genre and of its author. You would know the singular and recognizable style in the poetry and music of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen and Maria Callas, Enya and Madonna; in the writings of William Faulkner, William Styron, Stephen King, James Joyce, Joyce Carol Oates or Maya Angelou, Pablo Neruda, William Shakespeare, Rilke, Plato, Socrates, to name only a very few representations, each a great voice of their respective genre. As a Psychedelic rock musician stated, “I am David Gilmour, the voice and guitar of Pink Floyd.”; here clearly is that nebulous quality of voice that is spoken and intrinsic. Another example of the duality of voice is embodied in model Heidi Klum’s statement, “I sing a lot, even with my voice.”
Writing, the story (written words), or the plot, is an echo chamber for the voice to resonate within the reader. The voice, as defined in literary terms, is what the author has to say, his or her point of view, using a character, or presence, and written words, which can be subjective, passive, active, reliable or unreliable. The voice can be stream of consciousness, first person, third person, or omniscient. The style of the writing, of conveying meaning, is the narrator’s voice. So, in literature, there is the author’s voice (distinctive style of writing), and the narrative voice (the characters’ and story line point of view). Within the story, there are multiple voices, yet the author has an individual voice. The writer can divulge all manner of things about him or herself through the voice of the written words and the characters, with humor, sarcasm, apathy, and emotions. The voice echoes the values, the heart and soul of the writer and characters, the artists and those who represent groups. The voice becomes something of a paradox, both an external utterance and an internal language. Voting is the voice of the populace; music and poetry can be voices for the voiceless; conscience is a voice of the individual, culture, group, politics, social justice, and enlightenment.
A wonderful example of this duality of voice and its meaning is a quote from the fearless Malala Yousafzai, who is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, an activist for human rights, education, and world peace:
People say Malala’s voice is being sold to the world. But I see it as Malala’s voice reaching the world and resonating globally. You should think about what is behind Malala’s voice. What is she saying? I am only talking about education, women’s rights, and peace.
Malala speaks in the third person about herself, at once distancing from the too personal “I”, the tone of her statement more inclusive of the global community, then packing a punch with the very personal voice of her individual self. Here, too, is an example of the writer’s voice revealing herself to the reader through her expressed convictions.
If you want to develop your voice, you must use it. Write, sing, act, dance, draw, whatever your passion may be, and listen internally to the rhythm, to the words or feelings that will define your voice. Hear with your eyes, sing with your heart. Try on many coats to find a good fit. Express yourself, be like the wind and roar loudly or whisper through the trees; act boldly or modestly, but listen intently for the sound of clapping when you have hit the perfect note.