When I interview commissioning editors for my podcast I always ask them what they are looking for in the work they are considering for publication. When I asked Lee Harris, from the publisher TOR.com, this question his answer was:
For Lee, voice is more important than character, plot, and setting in attracting him to new writing.
Voice is a tricky concept for writers. It can mean ‘tone of voice’, as in the emotional content of what the characters are saying; but it can also have a deeper, more profound meaning. It can refer to the style and flavour of a writer’s work. I believe that this latter definition of voice is unique to each writer. Each of us has to work hard to discover and refine our own voice, but if we want to be writers it’s essential that we do so.
One reason why I think this issue is so important to Christian writers is because voice is significant in scripture. The way that God says something is a critical element of what He is saying. This is true in terms of the emotional content of what is being said, as well as the deeper sense of voice.
When God speaks to Elijah after his confrontation with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings Ch. 19) He is not in the earthquake, or the fire, He’s in the “gentle whisper”. It is this gentle whisper that provokes a reaction from the traumatised prophet. The tone of God’s voice is what Elijah needed at that moment.
But I think the God of the Old Testament also has a ‘voice’ in this deeper sense, and that matters too. Whenever God speaks, the words He uses are direct, assured, effortlessly commanding. God’s complete command of every situation means that we can discern the authority in this deeper voice whether God is shouting or whispering.
In the New Testament, when Jesus speaks to people, again the voice He uses matters. And again, this is true both in terms of the emotion in the words used, and the deeper voice that Jesus has. Jesus’ emotional reaction to the woman who touches Him in the hope of being healed (Mark Ch. 5) is gentle, forgiving, and affirming. It’s very different to the emotional context for His message to the money changers in the temple, or the Pharisees. Jesus also uses voice in the deeper sense to be compassionate and direct, firm but loving.
We can see further examples of this use of voice in other personalities from scripture. Think about the voice of John the Baptist. In the first chapter of the gospel of John we hear him, and his voice is blunt and direct, as we’d expect. But it is also designed to deflect attention away from himself and towards Jesus. So for example verse 23:
“I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
And verse 27:
“He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
The way in which this concept of deflecting attention away from himself and to Jesus is an aspect of John’s voice.
The fact that voice is so important to God has reinforced my belief that it is also vital to us as writers. But it’s not an easy concept to wrestle with. It’s hard to define, and hard for us as writers, to capture for ourselves.
To help us to get to grips with the subject of voice, in my next blog I’ll explore further what I think voice is, and how we can develop it.
Andrew is the presenter of The Creative Writer's Toolbelt a podcast that offers practical, accessible advice on the craft. Andrew has published fiction and collaborated on a number of ghost-writing projects through Authentic Media, including the bestselling, 'Once an Addict' with Barry Woodward. He has also self-published a number of science fiction short stories.