The term 'writer's voice' is thrown around a great deal. It is something that most writers spend a great deal of time trying to perfect, most literary agents are always on the lookout for and readers unwittingly seek to keep them reading. When literary agents are asked what it is that they are looking for in a manuscript submission, the answer is always the same. There are the tangible aspects such as writing skill, a compelling story and a resonance with the reader - but there is that one special ingredient, and it is much less tangible, and not so easy to define, and that is a fresh and unique writer's voice.
Voice in everyday terms is how we deliver our speech in a way that is unique to us. It's a fact that when someone you know speaks, you don't have to see them to know it's them. It isn't what they are saying, it isn't in the words they use or how they have strung them together, it is in intonation and delivery, it is in personality and perspective - it is revealed in those "I knew you would say that" moments.
A voice when writing is much the same. It is unique to you in your delivery, your personality and your perspective of the world or your interpretation of the ordinary. It is how you say something without actually saying it and it is how you write between the lines enabling the reader to read between the lines.
A skilled writer can transfer his voice to his writing and his words become much more than just words on a page, they come alive and rattle around in your head. A truly distinct voice sits just to your right, crouching just behind the book you are holding and tells you the story whilst you read.
If you were to pick out two of your favourite writers, chances are you could distinguish a passage from their writing that you had never previously come across, and identify it as their writing.
Most stories follow a similar format of a protagonist having needs and desires, facing obstacles and challenges and finally reaching an end goal. However, if that's all there is to it, then there really are no new stories out there - just a different way of telling the ones we already have. But, this is where voice comes in. The same story format is told but with different characters, events and settings, but without a unique voice, all of these stories become samey, predictable and transparent.
When you read your favourite writers - can you describe their voice? What makes that story unique to them and written in such a way that no other person could have written it? When you have determined that, you have identified their voice.
The next challenge is to do that with your own writing - what story are you telling that only you could tell in that way?