Tuesday, April 22, 2008

VOICE


This is a quote from Wikipedia:: " Writer's voice is a literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author. Voice is a combination of a writer's use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works). Voice can also be referred to as the specific fingerprint of an author, as every author has a different writing style.
In creative writing, students are often encouraged to experiment with different literary styles and techniques in order to help them better develop their "voice." Voice varies with the individual author, but, particularly in American culture, having a strong voice is considered positive and beneficial to both the writer and his or her audience."

I quote this because sometimes we wonder if we have a "voice." Somehow we know we "should" but don't know if we do. I particularly like the section up above where it says the writer's voice includes the use of syntax, diction, etc... across several works. It's there, whether we know it or not. It's how we express ourselves.

Sometimes I wish I could read our comments without knowing who the author is. I fancy that I could tell all of us without looking at a name. Last week, Eli told Lori she always knew her posts because of her voice and Lori mentioned that I had told her she had a distinctive voice and she hadn't been sure if that was good or bad. Thank heavens her husband told her it was good because it is. All of us have one. All of us. Karen conducted a test in one of her blogs where she gave a list of items to include in a story set up and everyone used them to their best advantage. Our voices shone through.

If you don't think you have a voice it may be because you haven't written enough yet to discern your own patterns. But think of your favorite authors, think of what you like about them, and if part of it is the manner in which they express themselves, their sentence structure, the way in which they develop a character and create dialogue -- you are admiring their voice. If you enjoy their message, their sensibilities and take on life -- then you are enjoying their voice. Because voice is a writer's essence, it's a part of who they are. You can contort it, just as an actor can assume a different role, but it will be a role then and not true. And it will show. No one is going to confuse Stephen King and Janet Evanovich and it's not because of their subject matter -- it's because of their voice.

Have you ever started reading a book and connected immediately? Felt very comfortable, understood every nuance, could almost anticipate the next word? If so, you may have run across someone with a voice very close to your own. It would be interesting to know if that familiarity runs through a person's favorite authors. I don't know if that;s true or not or stupid or not. What do you think?

Meanwhile, my advice for those of you who do not know your voice -- don't worry about it. It's there. It's like your fingerprints, it's part of you for good or bad. You can train it, you can hone it, you can refine and develop it. But it's there.

20 comments:

Elisabeth Naughton said...

"Don't expect much from my blog on Wednesday..."

(Note to self: Ignore Alice.)

GREAT blog, Alice, and it goes along well with the voice discussion Terry McLaughlin led last week at our chapter meeting.

I think it takes a while to be comfortable writing in your natural voice. As writers, I think we experiment, try on different styles and play with our writing until we find what works and fits for us. I did. I know other writers who did. It takes a lot of courage to write from within, and tapping into your voice is writing directly from the center of you.

One of my closest "non-reader" friends told me once she loves reading my books because it's like talking to me. That she can see me talking when she reads my stuff. That was probably the best compliment I've ever received with regard to my writing, because it means my voice is definitely coming through.

I do think you're right in that our favorite authors have voices similar to us or to each other. The authors I tend to love right now - Kresley Cole, JR Ward, Roxanne St. Claire, Cindy Gerard - they all have similar nuances in their writing. I hadn't thought about that before but I definitely see it now.

Alice Sharpe said...

Eli -- My sister told me one time that reading my books was like talking to me. This was awhile ago and I thought she meant she recognized the slang terms I use or the sensibilities I espouse, but now I understand what she recognized about my writing was that elusive thing called voice.

I never thought about playing around with finding your voice and in that manner, I suppose subject matter does help define your writing fingerprint.

It's interesting. Thanks for responding. (And Wikipedia did most of the work for me!)

Elisabeth Naughton said...

LOL, Alice. Good thing voice isn't simply what our characters say. I think I told you I let my mother read (what will soon be) my first release. Afterwards, she said, "I loved it...except...Elisabeth! You don't talk like that!" (My heroine has a mouth on her at times.) That, of course, was not a reflection of my voice but on the character's words and mannerisms. To which I told my dear, sweet mother..."Well, that's because she's not me. She's her." Not so sure my mother understood the difference. ;)

wavybrains said...

Great blog Alice!

I think I notice voice more in Authors that I don't click with, because I tend to analyze those works more. I just finished a Kresley Cole book, and despite being very, very well written, it just didn't do it for me. I thought for sure I'd like her, because I love the writing of her good friend, Beth Kendrick. But, it just didn't work for me. However, the whole time I was reading the book, I was thinking: I bet Eli, Karen, and Lisa would love this book.

Before that book, I tried to like Stella Cameron yet again. I love her plot ideas, and her blogs are incredibly fun. Yet, her voice doesn't work for me. I find this one particularly interesting, because I liked her voice when she was writing historical and I like her blog voice. She's using a different voice for the contemporaries.

Conversely, I'm reading Vicky Lewis Thompson's Nerd Valentine. It's not my favorite book by her (I think it was Lisa who noted that the oversexed boss is a bit much), but I'm enjoying it none the less, because I love her voice. She could write a grocery list and I'd probably read it. Ditto Jennifer Crusie. I don't usually read any the authors whom she wrote "The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes" with, but her voice carried the book. (No offense to the venerable Anne Stuart).

In my own writing, I struggle with two things: one, I've recieved feedback that my adult contemporary voice is too "YA," and two, I worry that no one else gets my sense of humor. When Terry talked about a particular person not getting her sense of humor, that really hit home for me because that's a big worry for me.

Okay, I'm writing a book here, and the baby's on the other side of the room now. Great blog Alice!

Karen Duvall said...

I've heard many writers say they can't read other books while writing theirs because the author's voice in those books will affect their own. I couldn't change my voice if I tried.

That said, each of my characters has their own distinctive voice, and I've accidentally bled one's voice into another's a few times. I don't always catch it right away. It's especially apparent when I have a scene with my villain and heroine. He's a pompous asshole and it comes through in his speech. Some of that would intrude in Chalice's first person internals. So annoying. But easy to fix. 8^)

There's a fascinating study in voice every time Bookends has one of their first 100 words contests. Talk about varied voices! And the agents make it so obvious what types of voices they prefer, so you know right off what their tastes are. A lot of us commenters noted that many of our favorite entries didn't even get an honorable mention. But Jessica did admit to how hard it is to choose winners based on just 100 words. Still, this excellent proof of how truly subjective this business can be.

Alice Sharpe said...

Wavy -- What did Terry say about someone not getting her humor?

I'm out the door to do Mom things, but can't wait to check back in later today. Hope it takes Tavy three pages to crawl across the room to you!

Lisa Pulliam said...

Espouse?? Wow, Alice. I'm going to have to write that one down. And Eli, boy if your mom imagines you as those heroines...you're in for an awkward holiday season over the next couple of years...a couple of scenes come to mind...

Fabulous post, Alice! It's nice to be reminded that voice is something natural, not forced, and something we all have. It seems like editors and agents are always saying "we must love your voice," so it's easy to panic. And try to imitate writers we love, who are successful. But if we all just embraced our inner chi, we'd be best-sellers ;)

Alice Sharpe said...

Good points, Karen.

I wonder if there is your umbrella voice for your entire book and then the voices you use to reflect each character? I.e., I would probably write a different pompous ass than you would.

100 words isn't much, is it. Half a page? Yikes.

Alice Sharpe said...

Lisa, I don't know about the best seller thing (dream, on) at least we would create a body of work that was unique to us.

Awkward holiday dinners!!!! LOL!!!!!

Poor Eli. They won't let her near the cranberry sauce (and no, I don't have the slightest idea what that means...)

Elisabeth Naughton said...

ROFL, Lisa & Alice. Esp. when the DH - who hasn't even read the books - is sitting there telling everyone everything in the books is based on real life...

Can you see me rolling my eyes????

Lisa Pulliam said...

Alice, you probably just gave her an idea about using cranberry sauce in book three. Eli, it could be a part of the ritual you talked about. Honor thy goddess with the Cranberry Sauce and Necking Ritual.

Paty Jager said...

Interesting blog, Alice.

I've never dwelled on whether I had voice or not. Never really thought about it much. Mainly because I didn't have a clue what they were talking about and thought why worry about something I couldn't put a finger on. But I've been told by people who know me that they could "see" me in the writing. So I would assume that means I've found my voice.

Terry hit me with a hard question at the meeting. She asked me how my voice differs in my historical and my contemporary. I was at a loss. Because as I stated before- I've never thought much about voice. But I said something like, well different word choices since one is historical and one contemporary. Which is true, the dialogue and narrative both are worded differently when the stories are over 100 years apart.

I think the main things that stick out about my voice are: I don't use a scholarly vocabulary and I sprinkle in everyday humor.

Great subject especially after last week's meeting.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

OMG. Now you know you can't challenge me like that. That's going in the book somewhere! I'll find a way to work it in.

In the words of Karen...bwahahahahaha

Danita Cahill said...

Jumping onto the voice train. I love this thread of discussion nearly as much as talking about hooks!

I seem to have a strong writing voice, which I'm thankful for since I don't give it a lot of thought. I either score high or low in contests, which is supposedly an indicator of strong voice.

One of the best compliments I got as a reporter was from an acquaintance who took the paper I wrote for. He said he liked to start reading an article before looking at the byline to figure out if I'd written it or not. He said he could always tell within a paragraph or two if it was mine. Nice.

Wow Wavy, the baby is scooting/crawling all ready? That happened fast!

Danita Cahill said...

As far as voice in the authors I read...mmm...I do enjoy authors like Terry McMillan and Jennie Shortridge who write first person present tense really well, but I also enjoy Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich,and Dick Francis. All have their own distinct voice, but not really like mine.

Fun blog topic, Alice.

Any phone calls from mysterious little people lately? ha!

Piper Lee said...

Awesome blog topic, Alice!

It's always so interesting to discuss "voice".

I really like to read this blog and try to guess who's turn it is each time I pop by. It's a great game! (Oh yeah baby, I need to get out more.)

Of course, today was impossible to guess until I got past the Wikipedia quote, lol, but then it was obvious that it was an "Alice post".

So many of you are so easy to figure out when I'm reading your posts and/or comments. Such strong voices in all of you.

Right now, (btw Eli, great taste) I'm totally into Kresley Cole's books, all her paranormals and her historicals. Her voice and characters are so strong. She's right up my alley. (Ain't cliches fun?)

Kresley Cole, Julia Quinn, Shannon Drake, they all have very strong "voice" and they write humor and drama in such a perfect balance. I love that. That's what I strive for in my own writing. That perfect mix. Elisabeth writes like these women. With that strong voice, strong character, humorous mix. That's why her writing appeals to me, too. It's a blast to read her writing, and her friend was spot on when she said you can hear her in the pages of her books.(Okay... All except that dark one that she pulled out of who knows where. AKA... "The one Piper won't read". Look, if it gets published, I'll read it. Okay?!) LOL

Anyway Alice, when you said... "It would be interesting to know if that familiarity runs through a person's favorite authors." I would say, YES, I think it does. I think that our personalities are drawn to those with like personality and that's why we love their writing. We just relate to them and find that we can't help but want to read their work.

I enjoy a lot of different authors, but I have to say I have my favorites and they write the way I think and feel in my own life. The smart-mouthed, snarky stuff appeals to me. I fit into the skin of those characters so easily. That's a strong voice that can pull a reader in like that. In my opinion.

I loved thinking about this topic, Alice. You're always so wise. (Well, I think so, anyway. *grin*)

Piper Lee said...

Oh, oh, oh!!! *hand raised in the air, waving around* It's me again, Alice, you said...

"I wonder if there is your umbrella voice for your entire book and then the voices you use to reflect each character?"

In my opinion this is just done automatically. Don't you think?

Like, the narrative is your own writing voice, but then you give "voice" to each of your characters and some of you shines through in their dialogue and personality, but over-all they are not you, per say, but a bit of you, because they are your creation. You are the "god" (or "goddess" for you feminist girls) of your book. You have the creative control and so your "umbrella voice is the whole of the plot, etc., but your voice also shines through your characters in a different way because of the things they do and the things they say. Maybe they even do things we wish we could do or whatever, but oh I don't know... (Ugh, shutting up now because I'm giving myself a headache!)

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Aw, Piper. You're so sweet to say such nice things about my books!

And I agree 100% about what you said regarding your voice vs. your characters' voices. You're right in that every character is a small part of the author, but that the characters are not the author. And that when we're talking about voice, we're talking about the way an author tells a story vs. what his/her characters say or how they talk.

I haven't read Kresley Cole's historicals. Would you say her voice is the same as her paranormals or dramatically different? (Because I really like her paranormals.)

Piper Lee said...

Eli-- (get ready for a long, round about answer and feel free to skim a bit...) *big grin*

First, I would say that Kresley Cole's writing is fabulous no matter what genre of romance she's writing because she has such a strong voice.

So far, her historical novels are, to me, just as good as her paranormal. And I love her paranormal novels.

In her historical novel, "If You Dare", that I'm reading right now, both the little teaser page at the front of the book, and the prologue, grabbed me and totally sucked me in. Then I read the first line of chapter one and knew this book would be great.

The first chapter starts like this...

"Yes, yes, very well then. Take out his heart."
For the first time since his beating began, Courland MacCarrick's split, bloody sneer faltered.

To me, that's great humor and drama mixed. I totally laughed at that opening. (Sick huh?) But it says sooo much just in those few words.

She showed the hero's personality perfectly when his sneer finally faltered even though he'd just endured a horrid beating.

Strong hero's are my thing, and picturing this guy all bloody and beaten, but still sneering, just does something to me. :) But then to have him falter, I don't know, I just love that part. I knew he'd get his sneer back, but I wanted to read more to find out HOW he would get it.

Okay, now I'm way of topic. :)

Another reason I love Kresley's voice is because she's so sarcastic in her writing. That's a big pull for me because sarcasm is what I grew up around and am happily spreading to my own spawn. :)

Anyway, to wrap up my long-a$$ answer to your question...

Yes, I would say her voice is the same strong voice with which she writes all her awesome books. So check them out; you won't be disappointed. ;)

Piper Lee said...

Oops, it's not Courland, it's Courtland. Sorry! :)