What is voice?

Have you ever heard a commercial and recognized the celebrity voice narrating it?  Celebrities do it all the time.  Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Gene Hackman, and Keifer Sutherland have all lent their voices to commercials.  Why do corporations pay extra for these people when they could use your average announcer?  Because of their unique and recognizable voice.

Voice is something that comes up a lot in screenwriting.  One day I was speaking with the a prominent VP who helped usher a number of Hollywood hits to the big screen.  His single biggest emphasis for a good piece of writing was on the writer’s voice.  A few weeks later I had a manager tell me the same thing.

Here’s another good example pulled straight from Variety.com

Summit Entertainment picked up dark comedy “The Beaver,” penned by Kyle Killen.

“We bought the project because it’s told in one of the most unique voices ever,” said Erik Feig, Summit’s president of worldwide production and acquisitions.

It seems to one of the most important things and yet there’s really nothing written about it.  Why?  Because you can’t teach voice.  It’s individual to the writer.  What is surprising is how hard writer’s work to blend into the pack.  They toil endlessly over formatting and try to look just like every other piece of writing.  The truth is you need to stand out.  And I’m not talking about changing your fonts.  I’m speaking in terms of story and how it’s told.

What is voice?  It’s the idiosyncrasies in your choices as a writer.  The subject matter.  How you tell it.  And most obvious, the dialogue.  Think of these writers: The Coen Brothers, Charlie Kaufman, Quentin Tarantino.  Granted these writers are a bit more unique then the average Hollywood writer but they’re bleeding with voice.

Write the stories that only you could write, and do it your way.  If someone else can write your story better then you then they don’t need you.

Find your voice.  Then scream.