by Lisa Bullard
But it was the ketchup—something I usually took for granted—that stood out. Foreign ketchup was so foreign. Had ketchup become so familiar at home that I’d stopped noticing its taste? Was it because I was eating ketchup in Switzerland that it seemed like I was tasting ketchup for the ﬁrst time?
To me, the elusive concept of “writer’s voice” is like foreign ketchup. I know, now you’re saying, “Seriously, ketchup?” But teachers are being asked to help even young students develop their writing voices. The ﬁrst step must be to deﬁne voice, yet adult writers struggle to grasp what it means. Is a condiment comparison really so out of line?
The best deﬁnition I have for voice is that it is the writer embedding her personality, history, essence, into her writing. Is it true that there are no new stories? If so, then voice is the thing that makes us want to hear the old stories told over and over again—because each new voice makes those stories seem fresh and surprising.
Voice is each new writer saying to you as the reader:
“I’m going to tell you a story… about being afraid… about losing someone… about ﬁnding your true self… about staying a good friend. Sounds familiar, right? But I’m going to tell you this story in the way that only I can tell it, so you’ll hear it as if for the very ﬁrst time.”
My story, told in my voice, will taste like foreign ketchup to you. Still recognizable as the condiment you take for granted. And yet also so unexpected, so newly noticed, it will seem as if you have never eaten ketchup—or heard that particular story—ever before.