Teaching Writer’s Voice

Writer's VoiceA writer’s voice is the combination of sentence structure, punctuation, word choice, and personality a person uses when writing. It is the way a writer expresses himself. The voice can be formal or informal. A writer’s voice may contain long elegant prose or short choppy sentences.

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Writer’s Voice vs. Tone

The writer’s voice is different from the tone. Tone describes the emotional way a person says something. The tone is how the author feels about what he is talking about. A tone can be serious, sarcastic, wicked, proud, sympathetic, light-hearted, or hostile. Tell students to think about the tone their parents use when they haven’t completed chores compared to how their voices sound when they have done something well such as a good report card, athletic accomplishment, or created something spectacular. 

In both situations, the parent uses the same voice. They have expressions that they commonly say and diction they use when speaking. Their tone will change. When angry or frustrated, the tone will sound sharp or disappointed. When happy or pleased, the tone will be joyful.

Examples of Voice vs. Tone

These commonly used greetings use different voices. The words vary from formal to casual. Notice the use of the word SUGAR expressing a colloquial expression. 

How have you been doing?

What’s new with you? 

Why, sugar! How’s it going?

What’s up?

Long time no see.

These expressions are good examples of tone. You can feel the emotion with the words that are said.

Hey, Man!! Long time — no see. (happy and excited)

I’ve been so worried about you. Are you doing okay? (concerned)

Writer’s Voice in Narrative Writing

In writing narratives, authors often give different characters different voices. Some characters may speak in lengthy sentences while others speak in sentence fragments. Some characters may rely on figurative language and colloquium while others use formal language. A good example of characters’ voices is the novel Wonder by R. J. Palacio. In the novel, Palacio alternates perspectives from different characters. Each character has a unique voice. In Justin’s chapters, Palacio even uses all lowercase letters without proper punctuation to represent Justin’s musical talents.

Here are some things to think about when creating a character’s voice in narrative writing:

  • age
  • social status
  • Where does the character live?
  • fears
  • desires
  • believes and values
  • personality traits – outgoing or shy
  • outlook – funny, serious, emotional, busy-body

Voice in Narrative Writing Activity #1

Read these two excerpts. Use the discussion questions below to compare the characters’ voices.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Chapter 2

“Hi- yi ! You’re up a stump, ain’t you!”

No answer. Tom surveyed his last touch with the eye of an artist, then he gave his brush another gentle sweep and surveyed the result, as before. Ben ranged up alongside of him. Tom’s mouth watered for the apple, but he stuck to his work. Ben said:

“Hello, old chap, you got to work, hey?”

Tom wheeled suddenly and said:

“Why, it’s you, Ben! I warn’t noticing.”

“Say — I’m going in a-swimming, I am. Don’t you wish you could? But of course you’d druther work — wouldn’t you? Course you would!”

Tom contemplated the boy a bit, and said:

“What do you call work?”

“Why, ain’t that work?”

Anne of Green Gables: Chapter 4

“It’s a big tree,” said Marilla, “and it blooms great, but the fruit don’t amount to much never—small and wormy.”

“Oh, I don’t mean just the tree; of course it’s lovely—yes, it’s RADIANTLY lovely—it blooms as if it meant it—but I meant everything, the garden and the orchard and the brook and the woods, the whole big dear world. Don’t you feel as if you just loved the world on a morning like this? And I can hear the brook laughing all the way up here. Have you ever noticed what cheerful things brooks are? They’re always laughing. Even in winter-time I’ve heard them under the ice. I’m so glad there’s a brook near Green Gables.

Perhaps you think it doesn’t make any difference to me when you’re not going to keep me, but it does. I shall always like to remember that there is a brook at Green Gables even if I never see it again. If there wasn’t a brook I’d be HAUNTED by the uncomfortable feeling that there ought to be one. I’m not in the depths of despair this morning. I never can be in the morning. Isn’t it a splendid thing that there are mornings? But I feel very sad. I’ve just been imagining that it was really me you wanted after all and that I was to stay here for ever and ever. It was a great comfort while it lasted. But the worst of imagining things is that the time comes when you have to stop and that hurts.”

Discussion

In both novels, the characters are approximately the same age. Anne is 11-years old and Tom is 12-years old. Both novels were also written over a hundred years ago. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was written in 1875 and Anne of Green Gables was written in 1907. Even with these similarities, the voice of the characters varies greatly.

Do the characters use correct grammar?

How does the vocabulary change between the passages?

What type of sentence structure does each character use?

Select a figurative phrase from each passage. How do these vary?

How do the characters handle difficult situations?

Writer’s Voice in Narrative Writing Activity #2

Watch the Heinz ketchup commercial featuring Ed Sheeran. Describe Ed Sheeran’s voice.

The commercial is successful because Ed Sheeran’s charming voice comes through as he narrates the commercial. He talks to the audience as if they are friends. Even though he is in a posh restaurant, the character Sheeran portrays is an ordinary guy who loves his ketchup. Sheeran’s personality shines through with his word choice. For example, he replies in an informal, “Yeap.” He also repeats words like fancy and blah, blah blah instead of trying to come up with the actual words a waiter would use. 

Writer’s Voice in Narrative Writing Activity #3

Describe the character’s voice in each quote from literature.

“Matilda said, “Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable…”
― Roald Dahl, Matilda

“I’ll teach you how to jump on the wind’s back, and then away we go.”

― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

 

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

 

I wove my webs for you because I liked you.

After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die.

A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies.

By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle.

Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

― E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web 

Teaching Writer's Voice
Teaching Writer's Voice

Gay Miller

 

 

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