Time and time again, I’ve seen writers have an existential crisis upon discovering that a recent Netflix drama or the synopsis of an upcoming famously-written novel closely mirrors the plot of something they themselves have been feverishly working on for the better part of year. It’s a natural reaction. Suddenly, through no fault of your own, it feels like everything you’ve worked so hard on has become obsolete, worthless.
Nothing can be farther from the truth. The essence of your work doesn’t lie within the intricacies of your plot or the unforeseen twist(s) you’ve skillfully placed therewithin. At least, it shouldn’t. There are only so many plots and tropes to go around and they’ve all been used to death since the birth of human storytelling. It might be a bitter pill to swallow, but there is very little chance that your story is wholly original.
Having said that, there is genuine concern to be had. Aside from the pitfalls of plagiarism, be it malicious or coincidental, a number of readers do read explicitly for the plot. Naturally, as a writer, you want your story to stand out. While similarities to other works is unavoidable, it’s in your best interest to not follow another story beat for beat. As I said, there are readers who only care about the action of the plot. So much so, that even a whiff of a spoiler is enough to turn them off from even attempting to begin a story.
So what, then, is the essence of the work? It’s the one thing that sets any writer apart from the unending sea of talent that exists today, that has existed, that will exist: Voice.
What is voice? Is it really a thing? Does it really matter that much? Honestly, it’s one of those things that should be effortless while also taking your entire life to perfect. It’s something that’s never readily apparent in your writing unless it’s nonexistent.
I like to think of voice as the writer’s personality, sort of. It’s word choice, it’s the style of your prose, your diction, your prefered method of describing detail. But more than all of this superficial mechanical stuff, your voice as a writer is your literary subconscious. What I mean is, your voice is that which you use to govern the themes of any given work. It imparts a version of your own morality and value system into the world of your story.
And I know this is controversial in some writer circles, but I’m a firm believer in the idea that good writing, a good story, has to have something to say. It doesn’t have to be extremely deep or highly political but I really believe that every story should make at least a small statement on the human condition or on the nature of life. And following that thread, I see the writer’s voice as the facilitator between the fictional world and the reader, that which aims to make sense of otherwise random bits of action and events and give it all digestible form.
So, again, what is the writer’s voice? If it feels like I haven’t really answered the question well… it’s because it’s nothing and everything. Some writers (and readers for that matter) genuinely don’t care about their voice. They want to write stories and want people to read these stories and enjoy them for what they are. End of story. Nothing wrong with that. But for those who do want more, who want readers to deeply engage with their work, voice is what makes a story unique. Not the twist at the end nor the witty dialogue nor the exotic locals.
It’s the perspective that only you, as an individual member of the universe, can provide. And though your voice may change with time as you yourself grow as a human, it will always remain distinctly yours.
What’s your definition of the writer’s voice? Do you think it really matters in your writing or in literature as a whole? Please let me know in the comments.