In writing, you will hear about “voice,” but you won’t often get a clear answer as to what that means. That’s because it’s one name for many different things. It’s like saying “smurf” in the old Smurf cartoons—it means a different thing depending on how you use it.
I could address “voice” in a dozen different ways. I could talk about how each author is encouraged to find their own “voice”–how you can tell a poem by Emily Dickinson apart from Langston Hughes, for example. In singing, it’s the equivalent of knowing when Pavarotti is singing as opposed to Stevie Nicks. Each singer has a unique, recognizable style—you know their voice when you hear it.
I could also talk about your character’s voice, how we should be able to see as much of your character from what words they choose to use, what details they talk about (and what details they don’t). Does your villain speak in short phrases or long flowery ones? Does your main character repeat a specific word or phrase? Is your cowboy supposed to sound like Benedict Cumberbatch? This type of “voice” is a whole post all itself.
A picture book text can paint a picture or it can set the stage for a corresponding visual story. Sort of the difference between
… and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day…” (Where the Wild Things Are)
In the great green room there was a telephone …” (Goodnight Moon).
The first one paints a mood that the art alone can’t tell. The second one creates an image that accompanies the text. Both are good for the story they are telling, both create a visual without taking over for the artist.
The trick, as a text-only picture book creator, is to realize that you are a visual artist. Your text needs to create moods and images word by word, sentence by sentence, and it has to do it page by page and beginning to end.
One way to set yourself up for success in this area is to storyboard. Storyboarding your text will give you visual feedback on how your text works on each page. If you have a text-heavy page, you’ve either stepped into the artist’s area, or you have too many words, or your story may not be best suited as a picture book. You also need to be aware of your page turns.