We know what a screenwriter’s voice is now: their style, their tone, their personal outlook on the world of their story, condensed into the prose of their scripts. Next question is: how do you develop one? Well, you can ask yourself a few questions…
What’s your brand? Hollywood screenwriter Doug Eboch has an excellent blog post on what branding means to a screenwriter, and how to use it, here http://letsschmooze.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/whats-your-brand.html
Branding is what puts your name at the top of the list for a particular genre (and yes, there are lists!) Branding is what separates you from all the other writers who can write in your genre.
Your voice contributes enormously to the perception of your brand, and you need to think about how the way you write relates to the person you are. Are you witty? Precise? Apparently chaotic, or laser-focused? Laddish and matey, or formal? This is why imitating someone else’s voice won’t get you anywhere. There’s no point in your work being a shallow ripoff of Shane Black or Aaron Sorkin if it doesn’t match you.
What’s your genre? If your voice is hilariously funny, but you write tragic family melodramas, you can guarantee anyone reading them will misinterpret your intentions. If you write horror or thrillers, your voice had better be fast-paced and able to create tension. If your work is slow-build character pieces, you need to be able to conjure up a world of internal emotion in a sentence or two. Develop a voice that reinforces the world you want to create.
Your voice, or your character’s? This is something of a delicate balancing act. If, say, your story world is drily funny and your hero is sarcastic and snappy, then your prose voice should reflect that to an extent. But if your voice is exactly the same as your central character’s dialogue voice, their individuality may disappear into a generalised sea of snark. Whatever your voice, your characters must still stand out as individuals, recognisably part of your world but not inseparable from it.
Shorter is better. A novelist can afford to develop a voice that rambles, that goes off in random directions, that luxuriates in complex words and rich description. A screenwriter can’t. Even if you make a point of your work being erudite and grammatically rich, it still has to get the job done quickly and efficiently.
Don’t get too hung up on it. Which seems like a contradictory thing to say, after two posts on the subject, but in the end, voice isn’t the thing you’re selling. It’s a sign of professionalism and an indicator of talent, but it’s a bonus feature, not the main attraction. If the story you’re telling is intriguing and emotionally compelling, you can pretty much forget all about voice.
But then, if the story you’re telling is intriguing and emotionally compelling, you’ll probably find you develop a voice to tell it in anyway…