Voice-Driven Fiction | Why You Can’t Afford to Ignore Voice

Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, a novel about caregiving and ALS. Her short story collection, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, was a finalist in the Foreword Reviews' INDIEFAB Awards. Her fiction has won Gold and Silver Medals from Readers' Favorites International Book Awards, the Barry Hannah Prize, the Ron Rash Award, and many others.

Voice is like the juice in an apple. If there’s no juice, the apple tastes dry, and the reader won’t take another bite. And, readers aren’t the only ones who’ll take a pass. Unfortunately, apart from the issue of “likeable characters,” the single biggest reason agents send you a “bong” letter is that your manuscript lacks a distinctive voice.

voice-driven fiction apple comparison

Image from Pixabay via PublicDomainPictures

Agent Rachelle Gardner says, “One of the most common problems with fiction by new authors is the lack of a unique voice on the page.”

On the other hand, if the voice pulls an agent in, maybe she or he will take a chance. In an article in Slice Magazine, agent Carrie Howland says, ” I very often take on books with potential, because I fall in love with the voice and writing, even if the work as a whole isn’t quite ready.”

The “premise” of the book doesn’t figure into what makes these agents grab a book. Neither agent mentions an excellent query letter, tight synopsis, page-turning plot, or compelling characters. No. What these agents focus on is “voice,” and I’ve heard many other agents say the same thing.

What this comes down to is that voice-driven fiction works just as effectively as plot- or character-driven fiction. Whether you’re writing Young Adult fiction or fiction about a marital crisis, you need to develop a narrative voice unique to that story.

Whose Voice Is Telling the Story?

To understand what voice is and figure out if your novel’s storytelling voice is working as hard as it could, let’s start with some basic questions:

  • Who is telling the story? Whose voice is whispering in our ear?
  • Is the voice that of a character in the story?
  • Is the voice that of a narrator?

Mind you, I’m not talking