Hard to define.
Difficult (impossible?) to teach.
But there's nothing I love more in a book than a distinctive writing voice.
I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it. Or, more correctly, I know it when I HEAR it.
And if you think about it, that is really the literal meaning of the word "voice" - something that you HEAR.
To me, a distinct writing voice is one that sounds unique. It has a rhythm and flow and melody to it that sets it apart from another author's writing voice.
So here are a few examples of voice that I love:
From Patricia MacLachlan's Sarah, Plain and Tall (even the TITLE has a wonderful voice):
He was homely and plain, and he had a terrible holler and a horrid smell.
There will be Sarah’s sea, blue and gray and green, hanging on the wall. And songs, old ones and new. And Seal with yellow eyes. And there will be Sarah, plain and tall.
From Cynthia Rylant's Missing May:
Whirligigs of Fire and Dreams, glistening coke bottles and chocolate milk cartons to greet me. I was six years old and I had come home.
Home was, still is, a rusty old trailer stuck on the face of a mountain in Deep Water, in the heart of Fayette County. It looked to me, the first time, like a toy that God had been playing with and accidentally dropped out of heaven. Down and down and down it came and landed, thunk, on this mountain, sort of cockeyed and shaky and grateful to be all in one piece.
From Kate DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane:
Lolly was a lumpy woman who spoke too loudly and who wore too much lipstick.
The days passed. The sun rose and set and rose and set again and again. Sometimes the father came home and sometimes he did not. Edward’s ears became soggy and he did not care. His sweater had almost completely unraveled and it didn’t bother him. He was hugged half to death and it felt good. In the evenings, at the hands of Bryce, at the ends of the twine, Edward danced and danced.
From Kate DiCamillo's Flora and Ulysses:
He looked exactly like a villain.
That’s what Flora’s brain thought.
But her heart, her treacherous heart, rose up joyfully inside of her at the sight of him.
I think that’s one of the best feelings in the world, when you know your name is safe in another person’s mouth. When you know they’ll never shout it out like a cuss word, but say it or whisper it like a once-upon-a-time.
Lonely had followed me around for so long. That word was always perched somewhere close, always staring down at me, waiting to pounce out my joy.
From Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting:
The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.