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Style Versus Voice

I’m struggling to define the difference between style and voice in writing. I’m developing the idea that style is something like format (you can write with a technical style or a conversational style, for example), and voice is something inherent in your writing that is harder to define: it’s what makes your writing sound like you. But I still wasn’t happy with that explanation, so I threw the question out to my Twitter followers. As usual, they came up with some great insights:

  • celestine90 isn’t voice the idea that the work has personal flavor? Sounds unique to the writer? Style is formality and sentence structure?
    devinganger style = architecture, voice = decoration (to use a metaphor). (And style guide = local builder’s code)
    EllenSka Thaisa Frank says style can be copied, but voice cannot. (Voice is what’s missing when one writes “like” someone else.)
    Podchef style is what kind of words are used. Voice is how those words are used. no?
    jameswest Quick and dirty defs: Voice is having something (worthwhile) to write. Style is how you say it.
    RalphGravesl Style provides the general structure and form; voice is the words or phrases chosen within that form.
    RalphGraves Or, style is the coloring book picture, voice is the choice of crayons used (even if you stay in the lines).
    GlennWith2Ns My opinion: 1 is extrinsic & the other intrinsic. Like in dance, 1 is more for the while the otheris personal identity & character

What do you think? Add your comments below.

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6 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. I’d say that ‘style’ is everything that is normally covered by a style guide; that may sound daft but we don’t talk about ‘voice guides’.

    1. JD (The Engine Room) on April 5th, 2009 at 9:47 AM
  2. The intrinsic/extrinsic differentiation is spot-on! Style can be formal or informal, but identifies a particular piece of writing as related to a group (the same corporation, the same field, etc). Voice is individual (and similar to tone).

    2. brendalynn on March 31st, 2009 at 5:53 PM
  3. It’s rather like pinpointing the moment Winter becomes Spring. Definitely there but tantalisingly elusive.

    3. Anthony Madigan on March 31st, 2009 at 3:22 PM
  4. danllinas, style can be imposed by more than just your own personal choices. Style guides exist to make sure than a body of work from one organization uses roughly the same vocabulary, sentence constructs, and other such building blocks. Within that structure, though, you still have room for each author’s voice.

    4. Devin L. Ganger on March 31st, 2009 at 2:34 PM
  5. They’re so closely intertwined. I think the way to look at it is that you can’t really separate the two. Your style is inherent in creating your “voice.”

    But style IS the more technical of the two. Diction, figurative language, etc. all can be manipulated to create a style, and that style leads to your voice.

    5. danllinas on March 31st, 2009 at 1:08 PM
  6. Oooh! I like the coloring book/crayon analogy. Nice.

    6. ironic1 on March 31st, 2009 at 1:06 PM