This is something that I’ve seen asked so many times, and I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring (as though the ring wasn’t already overflowing!). Voice (and by extension, style) is such an intangible concept, so hard to explain beyond, “Something compelling about the writing that makes me want to read on.”
I think the trouble comes precisely when we attempt to define what makes voice. It’s unique to each individual, and though it may be very different between our characters, it’s still something that’s very much you. So, how do you go about finding it if you don’t even know what you’re looking for?
First person is very easy to slip into just telling, because you are in someone’s head.
Don’t forget that a lot of the time, there’s things you miss. You do things without noticing you do them, and usually only know about it when it’s pointed out by other people.
One example is my main character, Serah, unconsciously calling her charge Van by another name. Because the narrative is from her POV, we only ever hear her calling him Van. What the reader doesn’t realise until Van explicitly points it out later, however, is that she’s actually been calling him by another name.
I had a lot of trouble with this in the first draft. Being in the character’s head, I ended up telling the readers her thoughts with minimal showing involved. She would say someone was a jerk, and that was it. What I needed to do was have the jerk in question do something distinctly jerk-like to any audience, then have the character get annoyed and explain exactly why that person was a jerk for doing that. It provides a deeper insight into the character and what makes her tick. The audience also gains sympathy for her as they too can form their own conclusions about the person being a jerk.
Yes, it’s hard, but it makes for a character that audiences can connect with more easily.
How do you spot when you tell instead of show? What tricks do you use to avoid it?