Ruminating On: Voice Versus Style

What’s the difference between voice and style? Not much, actually. And that’s why writers either confuse the two or see both as the same thing. Today I’m going to go over what I believe is the difference. This is not gospel, just me trying to explain the subtly of the line between the two.

First and foremost, I would like to go over why people confuse voice and style because I believe that factors into this equation. When you’re reading—unless you know the author’s actual vocal tonality—you’re probably reading it in your own voice, or whatever voice holds precedent over your thoughts, anyway. Because of this, many associate style as the author’s voice. It just makes sense. You’re not actually hearing it, you’re reading it, and so the only things you have to go off of are the writer’s words, their style.

So how does one find an author’s voice? Here’s where we get into the confusing meat and potatoes of today’s blog. Your voice is distinct to you. Those closest to you could probably pick your voice out of a crowd of people because they know you so well. Your voice is so unique that there is a program that can single you out, even if you try to disguise it. It’s like a DNA test for sounds. The FBI and other government agencies use this gadget to analyze phone calls. It’s pretty nifty. And yes, I just said “nifty”. I suppose it’s “swell” also, but that’s beside the point. Fast-forwarding out of my fifties-era dialect, I think that piece of technology is rather cool. In writing, your voice is your own, as well. You’re either born with it or your not. Here’s the kicker for me. Voice is usually judged over everything else. Is your voice grating or annoying? Is it smooth and dulcet? What I’m getting at is, if people don’t like your voice, there’s not shit you can do about it. One of the most commonplace complaints I hear from authors about their editors is that the crazy so and so edited out all their voice. Normally, this is untrue. What the author thinks is the editor cutting out their voice is usually just the editor trying to keep you from sounding uninformed. Or, in drastic cases, like a complete moron. What’s wrong is wrong. A dangling participle is not voice. It’s simply incorrect. Every other sentence ending in ellipses is not voice. It’s unneeded. Hopping from third person to first person in the same paragraph isn’t voice, either. That’s just plain bad writing. Sure, you can try and sound like someone else, but you’re only doing just that—you’re mimicking them. And mimicry is the failure of self.

So what the flying fornication is style? Well, if your voice is the tone of your speech, style is what you use when speaking. I’m talking word choices, vernacular, metaphors and similes, sentence structure, what you choose to describe and what you don’t, et cetera. The major difference is, with style you have a choice. In my case, my style changes from book to book. When I write a Larry Laughlin story, my sentences are very truncated, succinct and to the point. With my newest novel, Life After Dane, I used a bigger canvas with a broader pallet. Ella May Peters—the narrator of Life After Dane—has a reflective, genteel quality in the way she speaks. Larry is far more coarse and intimidating. No one will open Life After Dane and think it’s a Larry Laughlin book. I’ve read many articles on style that liken it to a person’s sense of style. I disagree with that statement on the grounds that someone’s sense of style is usually unique to them, whereas stylistic examples in writing vary a great deal because, as authors, we’re usually writing about characters with glaringly different approaches to their deliveries. I don’t know, I could be wrong, but that’s just the way I see it. (Let’s talk about it later. I live in the comment section.) Now, I have seen editors mangle style because of personal preference. If your editor changes, “He farted loudly,” to “He passed gas loudly,” you have an issue and should seek out an editor that understands you. But that’s not voice. It’s word choice. It’s style, cuz. Be about it.

In summation, your voice is your own, whereas style should be ever changing and evolving. You must alter your style to fit whatever project you’re working on, but people should know right away that you wrote it. It’s a difficult balancing act, but one that most authors just fall into over time. You find what works for you and you stick with it. It’s really that easy and that difficult, all at the same time. But if your voice is overall unpleasant, maybe you should taken up knitting. Just sayin’.

See you good people between the pages.






5 thoughts on “Ruminating On: Voice Versus Style

  1. I’m gonna toss in my two cents…I usually think of the “style” as the character’s voice, whereas the “voice” is mine. I definitely write each book with a style indicative of the character I’m working with. My Katie (To Katie With Love) is all over the place with her thoughts and her rambling, whereas my Ivie (in Suddenly Sorceress) is more thoughtful in how she approaches things and her narration reflects that. But it’s very true that people have read both and said the voice is all me. So yeah…basically I’m saying you nailed this post.

  2. This post is a thing of beauty. I’ve read it several times now just to luxuriate in your phrasing. And, no, I don’t mean the two mentions of bodily noises. My very favourite is: “…whatever voice holds precedence over your thoughts.”

    I shall think on that for a long while. Thanking you for writing this, Edward. Your insights are very helpful, particularly to a newbie like me.

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