What is voice?
Think of your favourite writers. Think of their writing style. Is it intimate, casual, flippant, formal, colloquial? How do they come across to you the reader? How do they relay dialogue, description, character? All that is a writing style usually more or less unique to that writer. That's voice.
How can you tell what's YOUR voice as a writer? That's harder. We can always talk about other peoples strengths and weaknesses - it's much harder to point to our own. In a writer's group years ago, I was told by someone who was further down the writing path than me - you've not enough dialogue, you need much more. I worked hard to put masses of dialogue into my chapters. Then I went to do an MA and my tutor said 'Why have you got so much dialogue? Your strength is in your descriptive passages. Cut down on the dialogue!' She was right and I went through my book slashing and burning - not for the first time. And I realised I must listen to my own thoughts, feelings, opinions about my writing, my own instinct - not follow someone else's.
Here's some key questions to ask yourself to help discover and strengthen your voice. If you're writing memoir they apply to you personally. If you're writing fiction they apply to your main characters/protagonists. Your reader must care about you or your main character(s) - even if they don't like them.
1. What is the dominant impression of you or your main character. What is their/your main role in life? Fireman, policewoman, catering manager, shop-keeper, writer, parent? What is it defined by? Organised, sloppy, angry, happy, depressed, moaning, cheerful, good-natured etc?
2. What is your/your main character's physical appearance? Large? stocky? slim? neat? messy? well-dressed? Hippy? Neutral?
3. What is your/your main character's basic background? grew up where? family life? economic? education? politics? Music- pop, classical, techno, heavy metal, soul, rock?
4. Did you/ your main character have a life-altering event - as a child? teenager? young adult? older adult? What effect did it have on who you/they are?
5. Hopes and dreams - yours/your main character. Will it be fulfilled? Is it due to something missing/lacking in your/your character's life?
6. What does your/your character's actual voice sound like? Loud, soft, confident, shy, accent, RP( ie BBC British)?
When I first started writing I thought I had to eliminate my voice, not write like I speak, be a neutral observer. No, no, no. Let your own unique and wonderful voice be heard in your writing. That will catch the reader's attention.
With thanks to VOICE by James Scott Bell.