Voice: WhichFlavor Are You?
I have this thing for ice cream. If it's in the house, I'm helpless to resist it. Which is strange, because I once went years (my thinnest years; hmmm... wonder if there could be a correlation) without eating it after working in an ice cream parlor one summer and gorging myself sick.
But I digress. My point is, when asked to define the elusive literary term "voice," I've come to give an answer related to flavors of ice cream, for the following reasons.
1. New ice cream flavors take time to develop. In R&D departments nationwide, recipes are tweaked, taste-tested, and refined over a long period of time. An author's voice (since it is singular) takes years to develop and thousands of pages to clarify. But eventually, the writer's personality shines through, superceding all the homages to other authors' flavors.
2. Sometimes a consumer's in the mood for one flavor or another. I might walk into an ice cream parlor and choose black raspberry one day, peach-vanilla another, or chocolate chip mint, depending on my whim. This doesn't make one flavor better than another -- and it also explains a lot of book reviews, since reviewers don't get to choose their reads in accordance with their wishes of the moment.
3. Some flavors, such as vanilla or chocolate, appeal to most consumers, but others (chocolate-covered strawberry, black cherry-vanilla, cinnamon pecan, and even cantaloupe) develop cult followings who consume all that they can. There are tons of authors out there who become successful due to a devoted (or one might say rabid) fanbase, but only if the author's voice is sufficiently distinctive.
4. Strong flavors elicit strong reactions, while the milder types are liked a lot (but not necessarily loved emphatically) by many. If your writing voice is strong and unique, people are either going to adore your work or despise it. Forget about the ones who hate it (I am never going to like coffee ice cream or certain authors, for that matter). Target the affections of the ones who do.
Goofy question of the day: So if your writing were an ice cream flavor, what would it be? Something sweetly delicious, complex and resonant, tartly cool (hello, lime sherbet!)? Or are you more of a Neapolitan, with several flavors combined in one carton.