"Voice" may be the single most important element in writing a novel. Voice conveys attitude, culture, motivation, identifies characters, and sets your work apart from the hundreds of other novels waiting for an editor's attention.
1. How I Found My Voice:
Finding my literary voice took some experimenting with genres and POVs. I had to stop reading books in my genre areas of interest for a few months and start playing around with characters in my head. I wanted to "cleanse the palette" for a little while so I could construct a novel without anyone else's voices edging in.
My first novel (DTR) is third-person romantic suspense. It's solid writing and I like it but I felt that I didn't quite capture enough originality in my voice using that vehicle. I sat down and made a list of what I really loved in my favorite books and it looked something like this:
1. Strong heroine with interesting inner dialogue that makes me laugh.
2. Suspense woven throughout.
3. Heroine who likes to dish out a little sass. Sort of chick lit style voice but with less whining about men?? Explore this.
4. Romantic element, doesn't have to be paramount.
5. Some sort of "gimmick" that reveals the character's voice (like Blaire in Linda Howard's To Die For who kept making those hilarious lists or a character in one of Johanna Lindsey's novels (How To Marry A Duke? something like that) who started each chapter by writing a new vocabulary word in her journal and then using it in a sentence - ostensibly to cement its meaning in her head - that gave you a humorous insight into the events of the upcoming chapter.)
6. Paranormal or otherworldly element, but am a little tired of the same old vampires/shape-shifters/werewolves bit.
I looked over my list and decided I would try a first person POV so I could capture my heroine's inner dialogue and dish out some sass and then I spent months brainstorming a paranormal suspense series that didn't include any of the usual suspects. Everyone (from my CP to a prospective agent who has read both my GH ms and a sample of SF) says SF has a strong, unique voice. Because the writing flows so well and I love what I can do with this, I have to agree.
2. How I Developed My Voice:
I developed it by learning the craft of writing in first person and by constantly checking my WIP against my list to make sure I'm hitting on the main elements I love.
3. How Important Is Voice?:
Voice is incredibly important. Someone once said "there are no new ideas - just new takes on old ideas" and whether that's true or not, Voice is what sets your novel apart from every other paranormal or historical or romance on the shelf. That doesn't mean you don't work hard on plot, setting and characters but if you have a stellar plot and a ho-hum Voice, you won't grab anyone's attention for long. However, a fabulous Voice in a ho-hum plot may get you someone who sees your potential and wants to work with you.
Besides, some of the most interesting voices in contemporary fiction are short on plot. Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series comes to mind. I never read those for the plot (which is often loopy and far-fetched) but I never miss a book because her Voice is so entertaining.
4. Some Unique Voices In Literature:
Janet Evanovich - slapstick comedy on a page
J.D. Robb - gritty, edgy, fast-paced suspense with surprising flashes of humor and heart and a cast of characters with strong individual voices that come right off the page.
Lemony Snicket - sardonic, unique, utterly different from anything else I've read.
Dean Koontz - lyrical prose slowly sweeping along chilling elements of nightmarish suspense.
Laura Lippman - intense characters that feel as real to you as your next door neighbor.
Additional discussion about experimenting with different genres to find your voice can be found at Jessica Faust's blog. So how did you find your literary voice?