This question came up for me with reference to something on the EMWA e-list, and I'd love to hear what Crimespacers make of it. To cheat by repeating what I said there: Writing courses can teach the new writer about plotting and character arcs, how to use strong verbs and avoid excess adverbs, and a host of other techniques that separate the beginner from the pro. But what is voice if not something ineffable that springs from the depths of our individual creativity? It can't be faked. Can it be deliberately constructed?

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Depends on what you mean by "taught", I suppose. I don't think it can be taught the way algebra is, or even plot and structure. I do think it can be encouraged and mentored, though.

Ultimately it's every writer's own choices that make up their voice. Influences can affect it, but everyone has a unique voice, even if that singularity is only superficially different from someone else's voice.
I don't know if it can be taught, but I do think it can be learned. I think it's why beginning writers sound like the writers they're reading. It's like trying on clothes until you find things that fit, then you begin to make that style your own. As Stephen said, influences affect voice but in the end the voice, if you work at it, will become your own.
Voice cannot be taught, it can only be developed by the individual. If they cannot create their own voice, they cannot develop their own individualism; and then they would have no business being a novelist.
I think a writer's voice might be a bit like handwriting. While everyone has a certain style, it can also vary depending on where and when it's being written. One day my writing is very small and neat, another day it's much bigger and messier, particularly if I'm rushing to get the words down.

I thought I'd properly found my writer's voice when I started my fourth stab at a novel. After three books in third-person, I changed to first-person and suddenly the words and style suddenly seemed much more natural and more 'me'. But then I started my fifth book, back in third-person and the narrative style was completely different, different even to my earlier books.

So as David says, I think 'voice' only comes through the practice of writing, but I'd agree with Stephen's point that it's the writer's choices that truly determine their voice. While my last two books stylistically are very different, I think my voice probably shows through in the overall shape of the stories and why the plot twists go one way and not the other.
I love the handwriting analogy. Great.
Voice, to me, is like the Stanaslavski method of acting:
1. If your narrator is like you in many ways and you write first person or close third person, the voice is functionally "you."
2. If the point-of-view character of a given segment is very much unlike you, you do what you can to become that character. For some people, it's knowing the background of the character from birth to the moment of the story. For me, I become that character as best I can getting a sense of where he or she is from, what she thinks, etc. I make up the background as I go along, but always make that background consistent with my preconception of the character.
3. The best multi-character point of view books, I beleive, should have a different "voice" fpr each POV character.

Can voice be learned? It's there, it's you.

Can it be changed? Your voice learns as you learn.

Have you noticed how many detective characters are also mystery readers? Is that accurate? Actually, maybe, because I know many cops who read. I know hardly any noir-type characters who read.

Does than answer the question?

Of course not, but it's something to think about.

Jack Bludis
One man's opinion...

Voice -- that amorphous "feel" that permeates the prose -- can't be taught.

However, tone -- that transient "feel" that wafts in and out a story -- can be taught.

The former is a natural outgrowth of one's personality, worldview, and experiences. It's unconscious. It's a singular thing that comes from the inside to the outside. It's you, unvarnished.

The latter is a set of techniques one uses to manipulate the reader's emotions on a temporary basis. It's conscious. It comprises myriad external approaches that intend to penetrate the reader's experience. It's from the outside, aimed inward.

Blah blah blah!

- Scott
There are different questions at work here, to be technical.

Can "voice" be taught? Taught is the past tense of teach. Applicable definitions.
teach v
1. vt to impart knowledge or skill to somebody by instruction or example
2. vti to give lessons in a subject, or to give lessons to a person or animal
3. vt to bring understanding to somebody, especially through an experience

I am not sure it's possible to teach someone else to emulate a certain voice, or to teach them how to find their own voice. Part of the reason I say this is that we all, to some degree, see things differently. For example, if you're 5'11" a man who is 6' tall does not tower over you, whereas if you're 5'1" you might feel threatened by the height.

In the same way, particularly in our earlier reading experiences, how we view work will depend on what we have been reading. It's a human tendency to fit things onto scales. I have heard people refer to Rankin's writing as spare. Funny, I always thought of his descriptions as lush and vivid - part of what impressed me when I read him for the first time.

I think you can teach someone about style but I am not convinced you can teach them their voice.

Can voice be deliberately constructed? Yes. If you read enough of a person's work you can imitate them. I would love to see homage paid to certain masters, with others blending their style with that of the person being tributed - I think it could be amazing, the same way Russel's tribute to Ken Bruen was pitch perfect.

I am of the opinion that the most critical things about writing can't be taught. I took a creative writing diploma, and my tutor was a multi-published author. I was taught to do character profiles and a plot outline before starting page 1 of a manuscript. I actually started SC when I was taking that course. I remember finally admitting to the tutor that I had chucked all the rules and guidelines and was writing without a plot outline or character profiles.

She said, "Now you're a real writer."

People teach those things because they can be taught. You can't teach someone how to be a pantser in the plotting category. So you teach how to do an outline. But it is when people have enough confidence in themselves to chuck the rules and do things the way that works for them that their work moves up to a new level, in my opinion.
When learning to drive a car there's a point where changing gear, checking your mirrors and swearing at the driver who just cut you up becomes instinctive and no longer something you actively have to think about. Perhaps voice is like that. All the learning you do through practice or books or writing groups only becomes 'voice' when the words appear on the page instinctively, rather than through conscious effort.
I think a writer can be given the tools to how to create their own voice, and I've taught a couple of (free) classes like this that writers told me worked for them. It's really about the tools. I think a lot of writers stumble upon a voice through trial and error, but there are ways of reducing that heartache, with some of the right tools.

I've been told I have an extremely distinct voice for the current boks. Which I do, and it's on purpose. But I also had a completely distinct different voice for an action/thriller script that went out and did well for me, and no one realized I wasn't a guy who'd been in the military when they read it, and this was people at the top of Warner Bros., so cultivating a different voice is doable. (In fact, a couple of the meetings were hysterical when they realized that the "Toni" they were expecting was a woman.)
Toni, I'd love to have been a fly on the wall. LOL.

As I read the first part of this thread I was thinking that voice is a thing that is "freed," not taught. It is what is inside you: you express it by freeing it. The different voices you can write are the qualities inside yourself that you can learn to free up enough to bring them out to be heard as individuals.

Then I read Jack's post. That's pretty much what I wanted to say, different words.

(One of the first stories I wrote was anonymous, and the class all guessed it was written by a boy. Boy main character, so I was pleased.)
I started this discussion and went away, came back a few hours later to find it had sparked a lot of interesting comments. I also realized that by leaving out part of the discussion I "borrowed" from another list, I had changed the nature of the discussion. The part I left out: Someone asked, "What makes a protagonist shine?" My answer was "voice." I then posed the related question of whether voice can be taught, exactly as I did here. Because I didn't specify that I was thinking of the fresh, distinctive voice that makes a writer stand out--that elusive quality that everybody says they want to see but you can't nail it by going to a workshop about it--your comments didn't focus on that particular issue. So whaddaya think?


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