As a writer, it’s your job to describe your story’s characters in a way that impacts the reader. Nobody is interested in dull characters without much to say. We want interesting, engaging, and unique characters to follow throughout the narrative.
The way these characters speak to and about each other is informative – it lets us in on the dynamic of the characters’ relationships. As a writer, you also have your voice – the style and tone in which you write. In this article, we’ll explore both meanings of the word “voice” as it relates to writing.
How to Describe Voice in Writing Using Adjectives and Simile
There are two types of voice in writing.
There is the character’s voice – the way a character speaks, the quality of their voice, tone, and so on.
Then there is the author’s voice – how the author writes the text, the message they try to send, and the stylistic means through which they try to convey it.
Let’s explore both in more detail.
First, let’s look at some adjectives and similes an author may use to describe voices.
Adjectives to Describe a Voice
Writers have several ways to describe characters, from their appearance, values, and sense of humor.
Their voice is one of the most fascinating and impactful yet incredibly underrated character descriptions.
How does the character speak? How does their voice sound to others? Is it a deep voice? A husky voice? Has it been affected by a recent event, such as cold weather or shocking news?
How your character speaks, and the sound of their voice is a core part of their personality. Even with eyes closed, the reader is given a sense of the life the character has already lived.
It also informs the reader about a character’s state – perhaps they’re frightened, so their voice is tight. Maybe they’re having an intimate moment with their lover, so their voice is soft and smooth. Perhaps they have to assert themselves, and their voice becomes strong and commanding.
When presenting a character, writers must consider voice and the many adjectives to describe it. Below we’ve included a list of adjectives you can use to describing voice.
Abrasive – an unpleasant or irritating voice
Accusatory – a way of speaking that suggests blame or criticism
Animated – lively, the character is expressive with their feelings
Appealing – indicates a desire to help or to receive help
Authoritative – a way of speaking that asserts power and control
Barbed – criticism or insult masked as politeness or a compliment
Barking – Yelling or speaking aggressively toward another person
Bitter – tone and words that suggest bitterness
Blunt – speaking plainly and directly without consideration of others’ feelings
Brash – Confidently rude or straightforward
Breathy – speaking with extra breath in the voice, usually soft
Brittle – easy to break, not flexible, the character may be about to cry
Calm – soft and centered, easy
Cheerful – with a sense of cheer or joy
Colorless – bland, dull, unvaried
Crisp – clear, compelling, and unwavering
Croaky – a strained voice, like a frog, rough, character may have a sore throat
Cutting – an unkind way of speaking, intentionally upsetting others
Demanding – speaking in a way that calls for attention
Disembodied – a voice without a body, coming from somewhere else
Disinterested – apathetic, lack of care about the conversation
Dulcet – pleasant, nice to listen to, melodious
Faint – soft, gentle, hard to hear
Fawning – speaking to people-please, seeking approval
Feeble – weak, show a character’s vulnerability
Fierce – a strong, unforgiving, and assertive way of speaking
Firm – strong, unwavering, confident
Flat – without variation or melody, dull, disinterested tone of voice
Gentle – soft, easy, caring voice
Grating – a harsh and irritating voice, unpleasant to listen to
Grave – serious and somber, a character shares some heavy information, a distinct lack of lightness or humor
Growling – speaking aggressively with a low voice, like an animal
Guttural – to speak with harsh sounds produced at the back of the throat
Harsh – intentionally mean or critical
Hearty – energetic, cheerful, and loud voice
Hesitant – unsure, doubtful
High-pitched – high in pitch
Hoarse – strained voice, low and raspy
Hostile – unfriendly in nature, the character may have to defend themselves
Husky – hoarse, raspy
Impartial – and unbiased way of speaking, no sides taken on the subject matter
Insinuating – to imply a meaning, usually negative
Jeering – mocking, to deride, typically used to describe a crowd
Jubilant – to speak in a way that expresses joy
Lifeless – flat, uninspired voice
Lively – animated, energetic, excited
Loving – to speak with care and compassion for another
Malicious – to speak with the intent to be mean or upset someone
Matter of fact – unbiased, factual, cold
Monotonous – without variation in pitch, the same tone throughout
Muffled – hard to hear, unclear, the character may be behind a wall or wearing a mask
Nasal – to speak from the nose, too much or too little air trapped in nasal passages, the character may have a cold
Nonchalant – calm, easy-going voice, either uninterested or worry-free
Penetrating – a loud and direct voice, uncomfortable to listen to
Piercing – high-pitched, sharp voice, unpleasant
Pretentious – to speak from a place of perceived superiority
Quavering – an unsteady voice, usually due to self-doubt and uncertainty
Raucous – a loud an, unpleasant voice, obnoxious
Robust – a deep, loud voice, strong and varied
Saccharine – highly sentimental and sweet
Scathing – harsh and critical, from a character who feels angry
Scornful – mean, critical, with intent to shame another person
Serene – calm, peaceful
Shrill – unpleasant, loud and high-pitched, exaggerated
Silken – soft and smooth
Sincere – to speak with authenticity and truth, soft yet firm
Smoky – low and raspy voice, may be sexually attractive
Snide – to speak in a way that insults through a clever or witty comment
Somber – serious or sad voice
Staccato – to speak with extra punctuation in the voice, such as a guttural pause before each word
Suave – smooth and seductive, charming
Subdued – quiet, shy, not assertive
Taut – nervous sounding, tight voice
Tender – to speak with gentleness and genuine care
Thunderous – roaring, booming, to shout or talk loudly with a significant impact
Trembling – shaky, nervous voice
Vague – to speak with specific conviction, mysterious
Velvet – soft and silken voice, smooth
Venomous – to speak with insults or claims about another person, the character is angry or bitter
Wavering – a shaky voice, one of doubt and uncertainty
Weary – tired, exhausted, low effort in the voice
Whiny – to speak in a complaining tone, typically nasal
Similes to Describe a Voice
Writers don’t rely exclusively on adjectives to help them describe voices.
Sometimes they portray how a person’s voice sounds by comparing it to something else. Such is the use of simile – a standard literary device that conveys a more profound sense of meaning beyond the words expressed.
Similes evoke vivid images that encourage a greater understanding of the character and how they communicate.
Check out the following examples of famous authors using a simile to describe someone’s voice.
“Voice like dark brown velvet.”Josephine Tey
“Voice, cruel as a new knife.”George Garrett
“Like melting honey.”Jimmy Sangster
Now let’s discuss the second type of voice in writing…
The Author’s Voice
The author’s voice is their writing style.
Even though a writer will use an adjective to describe a someone’s voice, using that particular adjective is an expression of the writer’s creativity.
They have chosen that adjective over its synonyms because the word felt right and evokes strong images, feelings, or memories.
“A writer’s voice is not character alone, it is not style alone; it is far more. A writer’s voice line the stroke of an artist’s brush- is the thumbprint of her whole person- her idea, wit, humor, passions, rhythms.”– Patricia Lee Gauch
Other elements of the author’s voice include:
- Their tone
- Their use of grammar and punctuation
- Even the subject matter about which they choose to write
Voice is what sets the greatest authors apart from the rest. It’s a valuable tool that, once honed, can help an author hook a reader and carry them on the story’s journey with consistency.
Describing the person’s voice, whether it’s a shrill voice, one that sounds hoarse, or maybe like melting honey, helps the readers hear the characters in a way that immerses them in the story. They come to understand the characters in an emotionally evocative way which gives them a more visceral experience of the narrative.
Over time, authors tend to develop their writing voice. Sure, they may draw from an extensive list of adjectives and similes to describe the voice of a character, but their creative voice shines through the work.
Essentially, we hear the someone’s voice in the lines themselves, and we hear the author’s voice by reading between the lines. Both can contribute to an entertaining read.
Ask fellow writers for inputs on your work so you can have ideas on the best ways to describe a voice such that the reader will appreciate your characters even if they cannot see them.