Tuesday, January 23, 2018

First Rules of Critique, "Rule Four" — Understanding Voice

by Eva Marie Everson @EvaMarieEverson

When it comes to writing, what is an author’s “voice”?

According to THE BALANCE, voice is the tone, choice of words, choice of content, and even punctuation of the author. The author's voice is usually fairly consistent, particularly in third person narratives. As a result, it is usually possible to identify the author simply by reading a selection of his or her work.

Typically, something about an author’s work draws us … the cadence of their word choices, the rhythm and flow of their work within their particular genre. And, typically, an author’s voice stays consistent in each and every one of their works.

Years ago, I sat in a critique session where someone who didn’t understand (or read) Southern fiction read my submission. Although read well, I knew immediately the reader didn’t have stacks of my genre on his bookshelf. However, when the reading was done, and it was his turn to comment, he said, “I don’t usually read this genre, but I recognize that as a Southern fiction writer, you are choosing certain words and writing longer sentences. It’s all a part of the syntax.”

Exactly. This was a critique partner who understands that my voice is not necessarily his voice and vice versa. He didn’t try to chop the sentences up so that my Southern “voice” was lost … or the deep third person voice of my character.

When critiquing another’s work, you must be aware of their voice (this does not mean the characters’ voices within works of fiction, although you want to look for that as well), and critique accordingly. If you hear the author slipping out of voice, these are the things you comment on. Not: I don’t like your voice.


Home Office University Time
Let me challenge you with a fairly simple task: go to Amazon or any other online bookstore where you can read the first pages of a variety of bestselling works (let’s say five). Read within your preferred genre. Read outside of it. As you do, search for the differences in voice.

What do you like about the work? What don’t you like about it? How is your second choice of books different from the first … the third from the first and second … and so on and so forth.

Now, for those works that are not your usual genre, do you see why these are bestsellers … even though not in the voice you prefer to read?

If your goal is to be a good critique-giver, take time to read up on literary voice. To understand it. To know that yours is not like anyone else’s and no one else’s is like yours. Nor should they be.

But that doesn’t mean someone else’s work (and the voice therein) is not treasure.

First Rules of Critique - rule 4, Understanding Voice. Insight from @EvaMarieEverson (Click to Tweet)

Understanding an author's "voice" - from bestselling author @EvaMarieEverson (Click to Tweet)

In case you missed the previous posts in the series, here are the links:

First Rules of Critique, "Rule One"
First Rules of Critique, "Rule Two"
First Rules of Critique, "Rule Three"

Best-selling, award-winning author Eva Marie Everson is the president of Word Weavers International, the director of Florida Christian Writers Conference, and the contest director for Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Her latest novel, The One True Love of Alice-Ann (Tyndale), released April 1, 2017.


  1. Long and drawn out. That is the way we speak ☺

  2. Best explanation of 'voice'I read. Great job, Eva Marie!

  3. I've always summed up my writing in the words of Mr. Lewis Grizzard (some of y'all will remember him); "God has a suthin' accent." Thanks for sharing with us how voice is an important aspect of every writer's unique personality Ms. Eva Marie. God's blessings ma'am.

    1. "God talks like we do..." he used to say. Loved that guy...