Then other authors create unique, individual voices for each of their stories so that you might not realize they’d been written by the same person. Jane Yolen, Tamora Pierce, Suzanne Collins, K. A. Applegate, Garth Nix.
If you're the former, then the story voice and author voice remain fairly constant and you don't have to wrestle with the idea of different voices for different stories. However, as I said, this need to tell wildly different stories had me wrestling with voice for a long, long time.
So now I consider story voice to be which aspect of your author voice you’re focusing on or which emotional truth you are exploring.
The thing is, we all have many aspects to our personality: funny sides, serious sides, dark sides, places where our deepest fears lay. To me, it makes perfect sense that our body of work will cover more than one side of ourselves, thus different flavors of stories.
However, while we might vary in whether we want to focus on humor or seriousness or hope or despair, WHAT makes us laugh or cry or hope or despair is part of the essence of who we are and that will very likely remain constant throughout the body of our work.
Whether it is center stage or backdrop is the variable.
If you are writing a scary story, you will be drawing on what frightens you, the terrifying moments you’ve experienced, your nightmares.
If you are writing a humorous or light-hearted story, you will probably draw on what parts of life you find absurd or ironic. A romance would focus on how you define love.
Now, having said all that, I do suspect that each of us has a particular type of story that is best suited to our natural voice. As I told Dave in yesterday’s comments, Theodosia is absolutely the closest to my own natural voice to date. But does that mean I’m destined to write only Theodosia-like books for the rest of forever? Well, as much as I enjoy writing those, I certainly hope not, because that character only explores some of the things I know to be emotionally true, certainly not all of them. Perhaps Theodosia is only one aspect of my voice, or perhaps she is only one step along the path to finding my Most True Voice. I can't say for certain which it is.
I do know that I am hugely drawn to writing in the medieval period. In fact, four of my first six books were set in a medieval type setting. And while I don’t think that those books’ voice are as strong as Theodosia’s, I think it’s more because I hadn’t matured as a writer and developed my voice enough rather than because I was writing in a different time period.
The project I’m working on now is a very dark, mythical YA fantasy set against a late medieval backdrop and this voice sounds nothing like Theodosia, but I still feel very much that it’s my voice. But it is my seventeen-year-old voice versus my eleven-year-old voice. My coming-of-age voice versus my still-firmly-rooted-in-childhood voice. I am also exploring a whole different set of emotional truths and thematic issues and they help dictate the tone and feel of the story.
It is also my voice as seen through a medieval lens and worldview rather than an Edwardian one—two time periods with distinctly different flavors. The medieval world was obsessed with finding a path to grace and assuring a place in heaven, while Edwardians were just stepping out of a dark, somber, restrictive Victorian society and embracing a lighter side. Not to mention the beginning advent of modern technologies. If I’m doing my job in developing my characters, the flavor of those different times comes through.
Which is why I think asking By what moral authority am I writing this story? helps me be sure I’m telling a story for which I have an authentic voice. That moral authority is the key to my emotional authenticity.
I think the fact that voice is so much more than simply language style is what allows us to effectively explore these different cultures and time periods. And I honestly believe it’s more about capturing the Renaissance worldview or the medieval worldview rather than using absolutely correct language and sentence structure. My intention is usually to evoke the time period through the language rather than to recreate it. I think it can be more accessible to readers that way and it gives me greater creative license to tell the story. And I sincerely believe everything should serve the Story. Especially voice.