What is Voice?

Read the following examples of writers and their work which display distinct voices. Find two that you like. Make a list of each voice's characteristics. Focus less on what is being said and more on how it is being said. How are the two different? What would you expect from the story, given the author's voice in these excerpts? Think about what genre it would be in, but also think about what sort of story within that genre. For instance, a story might be in the sci-fi genre, but is it an exciting sci-fi adventure, or a scary sci-fi tale?
  • When you're finished, return to the workshop CREATING VOICE to respond to the challenge to explore your own voice.


"There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up, holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship's, smooths and contains the rocker. It's an inside kind--wrapped tight like skin. Then there is the loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive. On its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one's own feet going seem to come from a far-off place."
― Toni Morrison, Beloved

"Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief --oh, no! --it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me."
― Edgar Allan Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart

"What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight tell: it grovelled, seemingly on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face."
― Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

"The soldier in white was encased from head to toe in plaster and gauze. He had two useless legs and two useless arms. He had been smuggled into the ward during the night, and the men had no idea he was among them until they woke in the morning and saw the two strange legs hoisted from the hips, the two strange arms anchored up perpendicularly, all four limbs pinioned strangely in the air by lead weights suspeneded darkly above him that never moved... All they ever really saw of the stranger in white was a frayed black hole over his mouth.
The soldier in white had been filed next to the Texan, and the Texan sat sideways on his own bed, and talked to him throughout the morning, afternoon, and evening in a pleasant, sympathetic drawl. The Texan never minded that he got no reply."
― Joseph Heller, Catch-22

"A breeze ruffled the neat hedges of Privet Drive, which lay silent and tidy under the inky sky, the very last place you would expect astonishing things to happen. Harry Potter rolled over inside his blankets without waking up. One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special, not knowing he was famous, not knowing he would be woken in a few hours' time by Mrs. Dursley's scream as she opened the front door to put out the milk bottles, nor that he would spend the next few weeks being prodded and pinched by his cousin Dudley...He couldn't know that at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: 'To Harry Potter - the boy who lived!'"
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

"Zaphod Beeblebrox has two heads--there's no clearer way to say it. If you know that going in, then the whole Galactic-president-on-the-run thing will only be a single whammy. Reading about Zaphod is the literary equivalent of strapping oneself to the roof of a nuclear train that has jumped the rails and is running down a plasma tunnel with only a wedge of lemon to use as a brake. Obviously, one would be naked with a tiny demon jabbing a trident into one's rear end while this is going on."
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

"In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
'Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the same advantages that you've had.'
He didn't say any more, but we've always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I'm inclined to reserve all judgements, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores."
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

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