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WTF Is Voice? …And Why You Should Stop Obsessing About It.

Voice – Do you have it? Every new writer struggles with this question. But before they can even begin to find answers, let alone develop their own, they have to ask…


by The Single Screenwriter

Voice, WTF is it?

Simple answer – nobody knows.

You think I kid, but the industry joke answer is, “I have no idea, but I know a good one when I see it.”

New writers know that voice matters, so they scramble to figure it out. Any and all pondering on voice inevitably leads writers to Shane Black as the shining example, so new writers litter their scripts with Shane Black-isms and hope like hell that passes for good voice. It really doesn’t. You know those YouTube videos of tone-deaf teens covering their to-die-for-fave pop star flavor-of-the-week hit? The ones that get two hundred thousand Vintage Microphonehits because they are JUST THAT BAD? Your Shane Black imitation is worse.

So what is voice?

It’s easier to define what it isn’t. People think of voice as style, cadence, melody, attitude, and a whole bucket load of other stuff that it really isn’t. Sure, this stuff can be used to describe a particular voice, but man, don’t think of voice that way ’cause it’s wrong and your script will read like a brain damaged monkey wrote it.

New writers know that voice matters, so they scramble to figure it out.

Voice is simply the thing that separates good scripts from great. It’s the thing that makes a script read like butter. It’s the way the writer chooses words and strings them together, the way they read, they sound, they taste, they evoke…

Blah, blah, blah…

I’ll shut up already. None of this tells you what voice is or how to develop it, and it’s enough bull crap to make a writer want to blow their brains out.

Don’t do that. Please. There are bigger things worthy of mental breakdowns, like concept, character motivation, or what the hell to have for dinner. Concerns about voice should take up exactly zero percent of your obsession allotment.

Why?

Because it doesn’t matter. Not that voice doesn’t matter, because it really does, but obsessing over the development of your voice is an exercise in stupidity futility.

WHY?!

Because you already have one. And not just any one. A good one!

People can’t teach you voice, or even define it, because voice is as individual as you are. Voice is the one piece of the screenwriting puzzle that can’t be taught (unless someone somewhere is offering classes on how to be you, in which case, sign up immediately!). Voice is what makes a script uniquely you, and it’s reflected in every word, every phrase, every script choice you make. It’s already there, so stop worrying about it.

If it’s not yet good enough, not yet to the point where people can pick up a script and right from page one KNOW you wrote it, and KNOW they need to read every last luscious word of that sucker, don’t sweat it. Even when assholes very nice people say you have no real voice yet, there’s no need to rush out and read every last thing written on voice and take a two thousand dollar voice development class. It won’t get you voice any faster.116562_coffee_shop_in_black_and_white

Concerns about voice should take up exactly zero percent of your obsession allotment.

And please, for the love of God and all that is holy, ignore people who tell you to ‘find’ your voice. It’s not lost, damn it. It’s just camouflaged behind a bunch of crap that you’ve got to clear away.

Voice isn’t developed. What’s developed is everything around it. Write ’til your fingers bleed. Then write some more. Develop your craft. Nail that, and your voice shines through.

And don’t even start with about with shit like, “Well different genres need to have different voices.” No. They really don’t. Do you act the same when you’re on a pub-crawl as you do when you’re at a funeral? God, I hope not. But guess what? They’re both you. You’re not one dimensional, and neither is your voice. So surf genres. Your style’s gonna change (at least I hope, if you’re doing what’s best for the story), but it’s still your voice.

There are so many elements behind a great script worthy of time, development, hard work, obsession, and a good dose of alcohol, but voice isn’t one of them. Trust that it’s there, and that it’s good. It’s the one element you don’t have to worry about.

Like the day you woke up, looked at your life and thought, “Holy f*ck, I’m an adult! How the hell did that happen?” Same goes for voice. One day you’ll look at your work and go, “Damn, that’s good. How the hell did that happen?”

Until then, just write.

-The Single Screenwriter

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I am a phenomenal screenwriter and self-appointed guru on all things.

I am here to spread wisdom to anyone stupid enough to listen to me.

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About the Author

Jamie Campbell

Jamie Campbell is an author, screenwriter, and television addict.Jamie is proud to be an Editor for The Story Department.Her latest series Project Integrate is out now.

Comments 1

  1. Thank goodness.

    Voice can be a lot of things, from what one has to say (perspective, which, unfortunately a lot of writers lack) and HOW it’s written on the page. The thing is, there’s a HUGE difference between story and storyTELLING.

    All too often people get caught up in how the words appear on the page. Some people try and break that fourth wall and others ape the shit out of Shane Black in their own approach. The problem is, none of that has anything to do with STORY. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the people who do this are really masking their understanding of story by trying to accent the manner in which they TELL it.

    If one knows how to write a compelling story, they’re voice will shine through the characters and drama unfolding on the page, NOT by the manner they try to tell it. Anybody who doesn’t understand this should really take a look at scripts like “Toy Story 3” or “UP” and see how economical the writing is with its brevity of descriptions and lack of color, so to speak.

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