Once again it’s time for my little winter/spring writing classes. I have a basic writing course and an editing course. I have a few people who repeat the courses so I always try to vary my examples and how I present the information. Lately, I’ve been reading about voice in preparation for those classes.
Years ago someone at a course in the Iowa Summer Writing Festival said that it sounded like I had discovered my voice. I didn’t respond because I liked the person. The fact is, I don’t like the idea of voice which is what I later told my teacher. I wanted to be able to write different types of stories that deserve to be written in different ways. I remember that then he didn’t say anything to me which might have meant that he thought I was wrong. I don’t really know for sure except when I think about his published novels, they do sound like they are by the same author which is, I’m sure, an example of his personal style or voice. These days, I do understand this kind of style but I’m not sure this is good topic for beginning or intermediate writers.
Other examples of voice are. My early experimentation with voice included a large number of different characters in different locales. Writing dialogue is an obvious way that we can change our “voice” by acting out how we think a particular character would speak. Even when I’m writing from a third person limited point of view, I tend to write in what I would assume to be a proper voice for my chosen character and their background and setting. This kind of voice is a form of characterization and description. Although I’m not one of those writers that always starts with a character, there’s no denying (at least in my opinion!) that characters are the core around which any book revolves. Many have said that plot is primary for genres such as mysteries and thrillers but even these rely on their characters’ motivations to propel their plots forward and the point of view chosesn will rely in great part on our characters as well.
So far we have writing style which can be somewhat described as choices consistently made regarding sentence structure, vocabulary, etc. Then, we have voice associated with specific characters which can be in the way a character speaks and how they see the world in which they live. The slant or prejudice of the narrator is another way that voice is used in a novel. The ironic or humorous novels will rely a great deal on their narrator whether it is actually the voice of a character or an observing party. If we’re writing a humorous piece, we’ll probably going to use exaggeration, simile, and other tools of the trade to create a different type of style.
Now these are all very intellectual ways of looking at how we should write and I am far too inexperienced to not think about how I write. Maybe none of us are ever beyond evaluating and calculating how our writing works. But I do know that you have to relate emotionally to your writing. If you don’t think something you’ve written is funny, then it won’t be to other people. If you don’t feel sad when your character is sad, then that emotion won’t be passed on to your readers. So, I imagine that when I talk about voice with my next class, I’ll be asking them to remember when they felt sad, happy, or afraid and to use the memory of their emotions when they work on a character’s voice or the overall tone of a book or story. Their personal writing style will develop over time.
Thanks for this overview – ‘voice’ really is something that you hear people pipe on about all the time. I too think that if you’re writing in the same voice for every novel, they will all begin to sound the same. Variety is the spice of life.
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