Voice is a tricky thing. It’s one of those writing qualities where you know when you see it, but it can’t be easily described or defined. Yet you hear it talked about all the time, particularly from critics… “A fresh new voice.” “An original and unique voice.” But rarely does anyone ever qualify what voice is—because, in a way, you can’t. Not in the same way you can describe, say, the machinations of a plot, a system of magic, or an imagined sci-fi universe. Voice can’t be taught, and it can’t be replicated. And yet, it’s one of the most crucial aspects of fiction.
To me, voice is point of view. It’s the character of the person telling the story—maybe the writer, maybe the narrator, maybe a blending of the two. The point is, you get a sense that there’s a distinct vision, personality, or both behind the work. For example: Guillermo del Toro has a distinct voice; you know what his films are going to look and feel like. You recognize the consistency of the ideas driving his stories. Megan Abbott has a tremendous voice—if you’re familiar with her writing, you can be given one of her books, not know she wrote it, and likely guess it’s her work.
Voice, you can say, is where craft and an artist’s life collide. It’s the marriage of what they’ve learned as a writer, director, etc. and what they’ve experienced as a human being.