I think writers are getting really self-conscious about "creating a voice," and maybe that's counterproductive. Not that whatever spews out is voice-- but I think you FIND and then REFINE your voice, you don't create it whole cloth.
Actually, I think voice starts not with sentences-- it ENDS with sentences-- but rather with world view.
Oh, first, this is something that might be different from author to author-- or from work to work. That is, is your voice consistent throughout your oeuvre, developing, maybe, but never transforming into something else? Or is it a work-oriented process, where you have a different voice in every book (perhaps because your voice is actually the characters' voices? Which would each of you say your voice is?
I would suspect, with my evidence only being my reading, that comedy writers have fairly consistent voices. That is, Carl Hiassen "sounds" similar from book to book, no matter who the major character is, because his voice is what makes him funny. (I remember asking Eileen Dreyer to do a workshop on "How to Write Funny," and she replied, "Look. Either you're funny or you're not. You can't fake it.")
But writers who do deep POV (and that is usually in books where one or two characters dominate, and their journey drives the story) might have radically different voice from one book to another, because they're actually writing in "character voice".
What do you all think?
But anyway, one aspect of voice I think is paramount and primary is "world view". What is that? It's how you (or the character, or both) view the world. That is, if you have sort of a paranoid world view, and I don't mean that pejoratively, because it's actually a great world view for horror and dystopic and cyberpunk, then your voice is going to reflect that. If you're funny, it'll probably be in a dark-comedy way. You are unlikely to have sentimental scenes (unless you're setting up for something really gross or disastrous). Your tone will invite the reader to feel a sense of dread.
But if you (or character in voice) have a sunnier world view, then you'll likely choose a sunnier genre or subgenre. If you write about vampires, they're probably funny vampires who chat about how cow's blood makes them flatulent.
This will affect everything else-- what events you choose, how you end the story, how painful the internal conflict is, how you develop scenes, and oh, yes, what words you choose in your sentences, and in what order you put sentences in a paragraph (do you end on an upbeat or a downbeat?).
I think this is the FIRST voice choice, and everything derives from this. This is why I get annoyed when writers act as if voice is all about their diction (word choice) or their syntax (sentence order). Those come last. And in fact, those should come naturally because of the choices you made even before you created a sentence. In fact, world view might not be a choice at all. You are probably born an optimist or a pessimist, and I don't know if you can change that, and it's likely to affect your world view as a writer.
I guess what I'm saying is, your voice task on the sentence level should be going through and finding the sentences and words which are not within your voice (or the voice of the book or scene) and fixing them, refining them to be within the voice you've already established. If you're self-consciously crafting "voice" into your sentences, I have to wonder how organic your writing is. That is, if your world view (in life, or just for this book, or just as a writer-- yeah, I do think a person who lives sunnily can write darkly, sure... but she's adopting the world view as she writes-- she doesn't just choose "dark words," does she? Not if she knows who she is as a writer and what this book is) -- where was I? Oh. If your world view is this and not that, the story and the scene design and the paragraphing and the sentences should reflect that world view-- the tone or the mood created in the reader should be constructed by all of that, not just word choice.
(Let me point something out. I was going to revise that last paragraph because I have been teaching my students how not to fragment and comma-splice sentences, and I really ought to set a better example. I mean, just attaching a bunch of clauses together with dashes does NOT a coherent sentence make. But then I thought, heck, what a good example of syntax reflecting world view? See, I tend to think, "It's all connected." I mean, if I weren't a skeptic, I'd be a conspiracy theorist, because within me there's a suspicion that Oliver North is connected to the assassination of JFK. Sure, maybe he was only 19 at the time, but really, in the 80s, he was connected with just about everything, and who knows? Anyway, my dark fantasies about Ollie North aside, I do think it's all connected, and that is reflected in my choice of university -- Chicago, where everything is cross-curricular-- and also my favorite punctuation mark, yes, the dash, and it'd probably also be the ellipsis if I wasn't so scared of Theresa's scorn. Anyway, point is, my stringing all that together in the paragraph above reflects my "connected" world view.)
(And no, I'm not sure what my penchant for parentheses reflects. Skepticism, somehow? Or maybe the suspicion that you always have to delve deeper?)
So what is a world view? Well, you know as well as I do. But here are some -- I think it's kind of about the assumptions you start with about life. (And the world view can actually be the major POV character's-- as I said, you can vary your voice by story or even by scene.)
Pessimist or optimist?
(Related to that) Do you think humans are innately good or not?
What matters more, justice or mercy?
Would you say principle matters more than pragmatics, or vice versa?
Democracy or benign dictatorship?
Are you more likely to laugh or cry?
Dogs or cats? Or no pets at all?
Is betrayal likely in this world?
Do you believe in miracles?
What about love at first sight?
Beauty or goodness, or are they the same?
"Live fast, die young, leave a handsome corpse," or "You can never be too careful?"
Destiny? Is there destiny, or do you think mostly we make our own way? (This is very important in romance-- I find that I tend not to believe in stories where people are "fated" to be together, as in Twilight... I like it when they have to work for it. That's world view!)
What genre-- horror or romance? Mystery or sf? Or????
Is the universe getting better or worse?
Community or individual-- what is paramount?
Urban or rural?
Active or reflective?
Expressive or private?
Bright colors or subdued?
Modern or traditional?
Fast or slow?
Poetry or prose, or both?
How empathic are you? Can you feel what others are feeling?
Do you believe in intuition?
Do you believe in God? (I ask this because I notice that some writers I know to be atheists or agnostics are fascinated by religion, but the way they deal with "absolutes" reflects their own complex feelings... cf. Joss Whedon's notion of "soul" in Buffy the Vampire Slayer... the incoherence of the treatment of soul, I think, reflects his agnosticism, his skepticism and yet reverence for the concept of faith -- and in fact, the incoherence makes the story deeper and more ambiguous.)
Should things make sense? Is incoherence annoying or deep?
Respect or love? (If you think you can have both, you are in a different world view than someone who thinks you can only have one.)
Are there answers, or only questions? Which is more important to explore?
I know these sound like I'm asking you about your intimate internal life, but in fact, who you are of course affects your world view, and your world view affects every aspect of your expression. (Again, some of us do subsume ourselves so utterly in a character, that the character's world view takes over, though our malleability is probably a result of our world view). And your expression, of course, comes out in your story, in your choice of genre, in your plot development, in your writing process. And eventually it will affect your sentences and word choice. For example, if your world view is skeptical, you will probably undercut your words a lot, maybe by having the POV character say something, and then immediately think something contradictory, or mentally "translate" it to what the truth is. Or if your world view exalts nature, you're probably going to have more description and use more vivid words, and maybe use natural phenomenon as a metaphor for emotion.
Thank you, Wikipedia: A worldview describes a consistent (to a varying degree) and integral sense of existence and provides a framework for generating, sustaining, and applying knowledge.
Okay, so it's about existence and knowledge. And expression therein.
But this is where you start, whence everything about the way you write derives.
For example, I think my world view is skeptical and yet optimistic. Everything I write, I think, reflects my world view that humans are innately good and yet can and should get better, and I can help. :)
So anyway, would you say that your world view is your own, more or less unchanging, reflecting very much who you are... or does your fiction-writing world view (as opposed to your personal world view) far more reflect the characters or book you're working with?