"Voice" in this sense refers to the way the story is written. Even in a simple third-person tale, when not thinking aloud or talking, a certain character will leave traces of their viewpoint in the tale, whether it be in terms of descriptive language, an objective examination of a person or object, or something more subtle.
Although this is mostly applicable to stories using first person or rotating narration, developing a distinctive voice for a character is an incredibly useful tool when it comes to encouraging audience engagement. One only has to look at the popularity of authors like Terry Pratchett and Suzanne Collins to see that having a particularly gripping or engaging tone can lead to massive success.
People view the world in very different ways, and fictional characters are no different. A jaded, seven-and-a-half-thousand-year-old wizard is going to view an argument very differently to the overly-sensitive gerbil hiding in the rim of his hat. However, with other concerns cluttering the author's mind - pacing, dialogue, grammar, that character that's been giving you dirty looks since you broke his nose three chapters ago - it's not always easy to maintain a distinctive narrative tone for the character.
Thus, I present to you a few examples of things you will likely have noted in your story that can affect your characters' viewpoint, their phraseology, and subsequently their presentation in the story.
1 - Their Social Status
Not long ago, I entrusted a post on this topic to a fictional personage of my own. Amidst his superfluous drivel, one might have noted his ridiculously long title, and his irritating use of long words. Meanwhile, another of his fellow guest posters had a very different voice, and wasn't half so fond of multiple syllables. As well as being a key indicator of their degree of education, a character's social background will also influence the type of people they would associate with, and the sort of language and viewpoint they would pick up from growing up in such an environment. For example, while Rahad might hold a very high opinion of philosophers due to his aristocratic background, Abra regards them with a sort of bemused scorn as, being a working-class girl, she sets little store by their constant disagreements over daft things like the number of winged blokes in dresses who can balance on a pin-head.
2 - Their Hobbies
If someone enjoys something, it's most likely that they know a lot about it. It's also quite likely that, if they are faced with a problem or situation, they will subconsciously start using skills learnt from their hobby to solve it. Pursuits and situations that are similar to, or somehow involve, their interests are likely to be greeted with a more positive view than something that is the polar opposite. These skills can come into play in even the most outlandish of situations, so its worth keeping them in mind when confronting your character with a challenge. Theseus might have had a good deal more fun with his ball of thread in the Minotaur's maze if he'd been proficient in the art of crocheting lumpy things.
3 - Their Self-Awareness
No, I don't mean whether or not your character wakes up in the morning remembering if she has toes or not. Characters who are more self-aware are more likely to have a greater understanding of not only their likes, dislikes, strengths and limitations, but they are also more likely to present a very different viewpoint to a character who is less prone to introspection. This may mean the former character has a more definitive view on situations, or is more worried when they have to push themselves beyond what they consider their limit. Meanwhile, the less self-aware character will likely draw the lucky number to be taking a voyage of self discovery at the same time as chasing the mystical MacGuffin across a land infested with a worryingly large number of carnivorous fungi.
4 - Their IQ
This might sound incredibly obvious, but there is a marked difference between someone's education-earned knowledge and their natural cognitive ability. Just because your character came from the working class, left school at fifteen and currently works behind the counter in Tesco's doesn't mean they're as thick as a pound of mince. One can demonstrate a character's natural thinking by showing how fast they work out different types of problem, or how easily they catch on to new skills, or piece together related (or perhaps unrelated) events. My 2010 NaNoWriMo featured a character who was severely dyslexic, illiterate, and poor as a church mouse, but was naturally very good at hands-on tasks (he could dismantle and re-assemble his ancient semi-automatic rifle in under a minute) and had a strong graps of strategy and consequence. Confront him with a page of quantum physics, however, and he would have been running for the exit faster than you could say "Newton".
5 - Their Faith
There aren't many openly religious characters in Young Adult books, but across the rest of the market one might be able to find a few. Religious faith varies wildy, even within a single religion, so it's important to have at least a general understanding of your character's religious stance, if you decide to give them a faith. Their faith will also influence things like their moral views, their sense of fate, and maybe even their views on larger themes such as death, love, and the rights of intelligent aquatic mammals. Meanwhile, it may also cause additional conflict when they are faced with a difficult moral decision - especially in a contemporary setting, if something like the right to die, homosexual rights, or a controvertial medical treatment are involved. Whether their faith means they are any less scared of being chewed to death by the large, angry dragon that is barrelling towards them across the skyline is another matter entirely.
What about you, readership? How do you deal with the challenges of narrative voice? Is there a particular strategy you like to use to help you work it out for an individual character? Do you think I've missed any crucially important factors from my list up there? Leave me a comment and let me know!
~ Charley R