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Consistent Voice

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Consistent Voice

Consistency is something you have undoubtedly strived for: consistent grades, consistent friendships, and consistent success. It is good to have consistency, and that extends to your writing. When talking about consistency in writing, nothing has such a big impact on it than the consistency of your voice. Without a consistent voice, your reader won’t be able to interpret your content correctly.

Consistent Voice Meaning

To understand what it means to have a consistent voice in writing, you have to know what voice is.

Voice is the way that a writer’s tone, syntax, and vocabulary create a stylistic impression on the page.

(Here’s a breakdown of those elements.)

A writer’s tone is the style of their written delivery.

Syntax is the way that words are arranged into meaningful phrases, clauses, and sentences.

Vocabulary is the words that a writer uses for himself, his narrator, or his characters.

This probably seems like a pretty huge and pretty vague recipe for something. You’d be right. That’s because “voice” is less something you define and more something you gauge in terms of its strength. Speaking of recipes, think of voice like the ingredients in a cake. The more voice you pour into your work, the more complex a flavor you create. The less voice you pour into your works, the simpler a flavor you create.

Either way, you want to aim for consistency.

A consistent voice is maintaining a voice that is consistent with the writing’s genre, narration, characters, grammar, and previously established voice.

A consistent voice is maintaining a contemporary atmosphere in historical fiction; maintaining formal diction in an essay; maintaining humor in a parody; maintaining a character’s distinctive dialogue; maintaining the narrator’s stylistic delivery; and maintaining any aspect of written delivery.

Using Consistent Voice in Writing

There’s a reason that writers go to such lengths to establish a strong voice for their story, or a neutral voice for their papers. A consistent voice guides a reader’s understanding of a piece of writing.

For instance, in a medieval fantasy European setting, the writer might create a consistent tone by using old-fashioned language (e.g., twas and hitherto), different accents for the different classes (e.g., ‘ello there!), and words that evoke a medieval setting such as tapestry, sabatons, and gallivanting. These choices guide the reader, and help them to understand the writer’s creation. To consistently employ these things is to create a consistent voice.

Consistent Voice peasant example StudySmarterFig. 1 - A consistent voice suits your genre.

Imagine if a scholar was really jokey and insouciant in one paragraph of their paper and formal in the next. Imagine if he or she then changed from the second-person (e.g. You might think) to the first-person (e.g. I believe) in the next. Such a paper would be poor, totally lacking a consistent voice.

A consistent voice gives the reader a strong impression of what your piece of writing is like, and keeps them engaged with your writing appropriately. You don't want a reader to feel confused and unsure about what they are reading. A consistent voice keeps the reader looking for laughs in a humorous piece; keeps the reader in France in a novel set in France; and keeps the reader attentive while reading a piece of news.

Difference Between Consistent Voice and Shift in Voice

You might remember “syntax” being a part of voice. When striving for voice consistency at the syntactic level, you want to be certain not to mix the active and passive voice.

Active voice is when you put the subject before the object in a sentence. For example,I pass the ball is an active voice construction.

Passive voice is when you put the object before the subject in a sentence. For example, The ball was passed by me is a passive voice construction.

In formal writing, avoid the passive voice if you can, and remain consistently active. In any kind of writing, do not mix the active and passive within a single sentence. This is called a voice shift, which is not a good thing to do. Here’s an example.

As we rounded the corner, a yelp was given by someone.

The first part of this sentence is active, while the second part is passive. Given that this shift is far from necessary, and it doesn’t sound great, here’s a better way.

As we rounded the corner, someone gave a yelp.

This is an example of a consistent voice in terms of the active and passive voice.

Note that a subject does not have to be provided in order for the passive voice to exist. The following is still a voice shift, even though it omits "by someone."

As we rounded the corner, a yelp was given.

To identify the passive voice here, look to the "was-verb" construction. Remember, something is the object if it is acted upon by the verb. Because a yelp is the result of an action, it is the object.

Voice Consistency Rules

Aside from the active and passive voice, you might be wondering what other rules exist regarding a consistent voice. The truth is, though, there are few hard and fast rules when it comes to voice consistency because voice is subjective. Creating a consistent voice is perfecting an art style; it is not following a set of instructions.

That said, here are some tips to help you improve your voice consistency.

  • Know your genre. Understand the hallmarks of your genre. Study what others have written in the genre, and see what they did to create a strong impression.

  • Know what your audience needs. Figure out ways to make your genre excel for your audience. For essays, use impeccable grammar, never dip into informal language, and use topic-specific words that invite your reader into the space (e.g., referencing literary devices in a literature essay).

  • Keep checking back. You want your voice to be consistent from beginning to end. To achieve that, there’s no better way than to compare your writing now to your writing before. See if your writing has remained consistent throughout your work!

It’s better to check along the way than to check at the end, because you can much more easily correct a mistake in the making than correct an entire story or essay.

Consistent Voice Example and Analysis

Here is an example of a strong, consistent voice from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) by Mark Twain. In this story, the main character is Hank, a man from 1889, who takes a blow to the head and appears in 6th-century England. The novel is a satirical, humorous fantasy story, and you can see that plainly even in the following short passage.

The moment I got a chance I slipped aside privately and touched an ancient common looking man on the shoulder and said, in an insinuating, confidential way:

“Friend, do me a kindness. Do you belong to the asylum, or are you just on a visit or something like that?”

He looked me over stupidly, and said: “Marry, fair sir, me seemeth—”

“That will do,” I said; “I reckon you are a patient.”

I moved away, cogitating, and at the same time keeping an eye out for any chance passenger in his right mind that might come along and give me some light. I judged I had found one, presently; so I drew him aside and said in his ear:

“If I could see the head keeper a minute—only just a minute—”

“Prithee do not let me.”

“Let you what ?”

(Chapter 2)

When analyzing a passage like this one, first look at the elements of voice. Consider the genre, the narrator, and the characters.

This passage has a voice consistent with its genre: a humorous fantasy. The narrator is the main character, Hank, who is consistently intelligent, cunning, and modern. Hank’s narrative voice is consistent with his character’s dialogue, as seen in his banter with the peasant, who also retains his flowery "medieval" voice.

In sum, Marks Twain's voice is consistently fantastical, humorous, and appropriately modern or medieval depending on the character.

Consistent Voice, Consistent Voice Examples, Knight, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Mark Twain uses a consistent voice to show the tension between the medeival knight and the modern yankee.

Consistent Voice - Key Takeaways

  • Voice is the way that a writer’s tone, syntax, and vocabulary create a stylistic impression on the page.
  • A consistent voice is maintaining a voice that is consistent with the writing’s genre, narration, characters, grammar, and previously established voice.
  • A consistent voice guides a reader’s understanding of a piece of writing.
  • In any kind of writing, avoid the voice shift: mixing the active and passive within a single sentence.
  • To maintain a consistent writing voice, know your genre, know what your audience needs, and keep checking back.

Frequently Asked Questions about Consistent Voice

A consistent voice is maintaining a voice that is consistent with the writing’s genre, narration, characters, grammar, and previously established voice.

Know your genre, know what your audience needs at any given point, and keep checking back to what you wrote before.

Without a consistent voice, your reader won’t be able to interpret your content correctly.

A consistent voice gives the reader a strong impression of what your piece of writing is like, and keeps them engaged with your writing in an appropriate way. You don't want a reader to feel confused and unsure about what they are reading.

A consistent voice is maintaining a voice that is consistent with the writing’s genre, narration, characters, grammar, and previously established voice.

Final Consistent Voice Quiz

Question

Which is not a part of voice?

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Answer

Evidence.

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Question

What is a writer's tone?

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Answer

A writer’s tone is the style of their written delivery. 

Show question

Question

What is syntax?

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Answer

Syntax is the way that words are arranged into meaningful phrases, clauses, and sentences. 

Show question

Question

What is vocabulary? 

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Answer

Vocabulary is the words that a writer uses for himself, his narrator, or his characters.

Show question

Question

_____ is maintaining a voice that is consistent with the writing’s genre, narration, characters, grammar, and previously established voice.


Show answer

Answer

Consistent voice

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Question

A consistent voice guides a reader’s _____ of a piece of writing. 


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Answer

Understanding.

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Question

A consistent voice gives the reader a _____ of what your piece of writing is like.


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Answer

Strong impression.

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Question

What is the active voice?

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Answer

Active voice is when you put the subject before the object in a sentence. For example, “I pass the ball” is an active voice construction.

Show question

Question

What is passive voice?

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Answer

Passive voice is when you put the object before the subject in a sentence. For example, “The ball was passed by me” is a passive voice construction.

Show question

Question

What is a voice shift?

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Answer

Mixing the active and passive voice in a single sentence.

Show question

Question

In what kind of writing should you use the voice shift?

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Answer

No kind.

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Question

Is the following an example of the voice shift?


When she called me, my phone was left on the table.

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Answer

Yes.

Show question

Question

Check for voice consistency as you go along, rather than checking at the end.

True or false?

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Answer

True.

Show question

Question

In an essay, what can you do provide a consistent voice for your readers?

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Answer

For essays, use impeccable grammar, never dip into informal language, and use topic-specific words that invite your reader into the space (e.g. referencing literary devices in a literature essay). 

Show question

Question

If your voice is not consistent, what do you risk in your writing?

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Answer

Your reader may feel confused or unsure about what they are reading. Without a consistent voice, your reader won’t be able to interpret your content correctly.

Show question

Question

Is the following an example of passive or active voice?


All that remains is for that boat to be anchored.

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Answer

Passive.

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Question

What is wrong with the following sentence?


A blanket was handed back to me as we drove through the night.

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Answer

It combines active and passive voice.

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Question

A voice shift is the opposite of consistent voice. 


True or false?

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Answer

True.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not something to keep in mind for voice consistency?

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Answer

Your genre.

Show question

Question

Is the following an example of active or passive voice?


We boat was anchored immediately.

Show answer

Answer

Active voice.

Show question

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