I played a rousing Zoom-hosted game of Ex Libris last night with some dear friends on the opposite coast. Do you know that game? It is so fun, so writerly, and really a fantastic exercise in voice.
I’ll tell you how to play in a minute, but first let me define what I mean by voice.
Voice is the metaphysics of style. The prose style you create for a book has a tone and personality all its own. It’s why a sentence of Jane Austen is distinguishable at a glance from a sentence of Tolkien. You’ll never answer the phone and think Salinger is talking when, in fact, it is Hemingway.
Word choice, sentence and paragraph rhythms, the kinds of details chosen, the way of seeing the world that is conveyed by what is said — all of these are part of voice. Together, they add up to a quality all great writing has: the unmistakable feeling that there is an actual, living personality on the other side of...