Finding a Voice: Who Is That?

Photo of person with their face covered with head hair. Courtesy of gratisography.comWhile I don’t hear or see a ton of commercials these days, one of my past times is still to listen to voiceovers and try to figure out what celebrity is getting paid gobs of money to lend a practiced and familiar voice to the pitch. Sometimes that’s easier than others. I’m not going to mistake Morgan Freeman or Jeff Bridges for anyone else. Actors like this all have distinct styles–sometimes informed by their roles–distinct inflections and phrasing. And they are often chosen because their voices stand out.

Others I think I recognize simply because I hear them all the time. Either their commercials are everywhere, or they are everywhere. John Krasinski comes to mind; although, I would likely recognize him regardless. Maybe Jason Sudeikis is a better example. And then there are others I can’t quite place. I know I recognize the voice, (I could just recognize it from other commercials), but it just sounds like so many others that it is difficult to pull it from the crowd. This could be the point. The marketing folks might want you to associate the voice with the brand without necessarily identifying the actor. But it doesn’t benefit the actor to blend in to the background of other voices.

As writers, we should be working to develop our own voice as well. I don’t think this means creating a false affectation or throwing in strange turns of phrase just to sound unusual. Mostly, I think it means we need to write a great deal in order to find a space that feels comfortable, one that matches our content. We can also experiment with the styles of writers we admire in order to see what makes their writing work. Like with language acquisition, we can imitate native speakers until we pick up our own accent. The best thing writers can do to develop their own voice–and this is the same as with language acquisition–is to use it.

We have to write to find out what makes our writing ours.

Simple advice I too often forget myself. How do you feel your voice has developed over time?


  1. Carol says

    Just like I am sensitive to accents, and by this I mean that if I am around one for very long, I tend to pick up some of the inflections and sounds, I am sensitive to a writer’s voice. While reading, there are times I can’t get into the rhythm of the writer, and may even quit reading. Other times, I am right there with the writer, like we’re sharing a dialog.

    My voice tends to be in phrasses, like I am thinking of more and more details of the original thought. I was told in high school not to write this way. But when I don’t, I tend to sound very formal. I do it anyway.

    I took a writers workshop recently where the purpose was to find your deep voice. The one that’s conversational, like you’re telling a story, and then deepening the voice (experience) by tying a moment to it – an unrelated experience where the emotion of the statement is clear. It can feel disjointed at first, but when you find the sweet spot, the work deepens and come alive. I haven’t practiced it much, but want to.

    I believe voice is developed, shifts and changes as we grow. And like you said, in order for that to happen, you have to write.

    • says

      Yeah, that personal voice idea is important, especially when we’re writing non-fiction. Why would you want to sound like someone else when you’re telling your story? I mean, if the message isn’t clear, if the reader is unable to understand your point, that might be an issue. But that feels less like a question of voice to me.

      And I like the idea of then connecting the emotion through a different experience, deepening the voice. Part of the problem we run into is trying to “describe” how we felt at a particular moment when we should probably be telling a story to “illustrate” that emotion.

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