What is Voice and Tone? (And Why Should You Care)?
A few weeks ago, I put together some content about voice and tone for my day job. This included information on what it is, why it matters, and how to come up with our own.
To most people this probably sounds pretty boring.
But to me, as a student of writing, it was fascinating.
It’s reinforced things I studied at university and helped me to learn how to explain the theory behind writing to people who are new to it.
Make no mistake—your voice and tone does matter.
And it influences everything.
Ready to find out more?
What is voice and tone?
Voice and tone are how you sound when you speak or write.
A good analogy is that your voice is your personality, and your tone is your mood.
Your voice—like your personality—never changes.
Your tone, on the other hand, changes based on the situation.
When you speak, your voice is reflected in your pitch, volume, body language, etc.
When you write, it comes across in your use of italics, bold, CAPITALS, punctuation, grammar, word choice, and just about every other ingredient involved in writing. All these elements work together to reflect who you are.
Why does voice and tone matter?
If your voice is inconsistent, people notice.
They may not pick up on it consciously, but they will most definitely notice if you switch from writing academically to sounding like a five-year-old.
Inconsistency makes people uncomfortable. It makes people less likely to trust you. And, because you make them uncomfortable and they don’t trust you, they’re less likely to listen to you and less likely to buy your books or services.
Take this example from Wuthering Heights:
I have just returned from a visit to my landlord—the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society. A perfect misanthropist’s heaven.
Now compare it to this, a millennial version (written by me):
I just got back from visiting my landlord. He’s the only neighbour I’ll have for miles. All this grass and greenery just to myself (almost). I’ve never been so far away from high society—it’s epic! The perfect place for someone as unsociable as me.
They both say the same thing in very different ways. They’d also appeal to two very different audiences.
The way you write influences who reads and enjoys your writing, so keep that in mind.
Adapting to different situations
Your voice—since it’s your personality—should never change.
Your tone, on the other hand, should change based on the situation.
If you have an irreverent sense of humour that’s fine, but there’s a time and a place for it. If you’re consoling someone who’s upset, the last thing you want to do is crack a joke at their expense.
If you find yourself feeling stuck, start by asking yourself how you want your reader to feel after they’ve read what you’re writing. Once you’ve got that, you can work backwards, thinking about ways to express that in an appropriate tone that fits your voice.
So how do your find yours?
Oh, if it were that simple.
Your authorial voice will evolve over time. The more you write, the closer you’ll get to finding it.
However, there are ways to fast track the creation of your voice.
Or, if you already have a voice, to really home in on it and ensure that everything you create accurately reflects it.
Start by writing down a list of every word you can possibly think of that describes your authorial brand (or what you want it to be). What it is, what you want it to be. Don’t be afraid to write down anything that sounds cringeworthy or generic. Write them ALL down. They don’t all have to be adjectives.
Now go through and cross out the ones that sound cringeworthy or generic until you have three left.
Those three are the words you’ll need to keep in mind when creating future content. They are your brand values.
This is short version of an activity from Andrew & Pete’s Content Mavericks course. If you want to work on your branding (which you really need to if you want to stand out), I’d highly recommend it.
If you’re wondering what mine are, they are:
- Rock and rose—edgy but feminine. Straight-talking but empathic.
- Modern but retro—pop culture references and millennial phrasings teamed with old-fashioned words and a respect for those who have come before us.
- Elevating—educational, inspiring, and thought-provoking. Elevating people to the next level consciously and subconsciously.
Your brand values don’t have to be adjectives. They can be any sort of word or phrase that reflects you and your authorial brand. They can be tied to the mood that you want people to feel after reading your content. They can be tied to the different elements of your personality. All these work together to ensure that your voice is consistent and original no matter what content you create.
I only decided on my path after doing a lot of research (and writing!), so don’t be too hard on yourself if you haven’t found yours yet.
Over to You
How would you describe your authorial voice? Let me know in the comments!