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batgirl
12-21-2006, 01:54 AM
One of the terms tossed about in critique and discussion is 'voice', that some authors have voice or have a distinctive voice. I've used the term myself, though usually referring to a particular narrator or character rather than the author.
(A couple of friends who've read my work say that it takes them 2 or 3 pages before they can read the story just as a story without hearing it read in my voice, but I figure that isn't the same thing.)
So what do you think gives a writer a distinctive voice? And who would you say has 'voice' and who doesn't? What makes the difference?
And if a writer does have a voice, does it carry through different genres or types of story?
-Barbara

PeeDee
12-21-2006, 02:14 AM
A writerly voice is the tone with which the story is told. It's literally a voice, it's the same thing as a speaking voice (though the writer's voice is not necessarily the same as his/her speaking voice, if you see what I mean). It's the tones and methods with which the writer communicates with the readers.

Some writers dont' change tones. I think that most probably do. I know that my voice changes a little bit depending on the story I'm working on and what sort of story it is. Actually, my tone will change from scene to scene in a story, if it's called for. Mostly, I don't plan this. I never sit down and decide that Scene 4b will be written like Raymond Chandler. I just write. Some scenes may be perfectly serious but have a bit of humor in them. Some may just be serious.

I think that the story guides how the story will sound. I think that if you've been writing long enough to find your own voice, rather than imitating the owrks of others, you'll also find that your voice is multi-faceted enough to change to fit the story, but will still remain distinctly your voice all the way through.

(that's a wonderful qusetion, Barbara.)

maestrowork
12-21-2006, 02:16 AM
My idea is that a writer's voice and style are very closely related, and it may vary from one genre to another. For example, with a historical, the voice/style might be more formal and prestine. With an urban drama, it might be more contemporary and casual. I presume that when we talk of a writer's voice, we're actually talking about the narrative voice (that of a narrator, whether it's visible: 1st person, or invisbile: 3rd person).

greatfish
12-21-2006, 02:28 AM
I believe voice is what you already recognize as a character or narrator and not the author. It's a combination of tone and diction. Generally, you wouldn't want the author's own voice to be recognized in a story, you would only want to recognize the voice of his characters, who should each have their own distinct voice. If every character sounds like the author then you have a problem. This is something William Faulkner is criticized with sometimes, because he had a fairly large vocabulary and you can occasionally find certain characters using words they probably shouldn't have known considering their background.

Mark Twain plays around with voice a lot, if you're interested in some reading to get examples. He was interested in the way people tell stories, so a lot of his work has him attempting to capture various voices.

engmajor2005
12-21-2006, 02:43 AM
I also thought of the term "voice" as the equivalent to the music industry's term "sound." It's a little hard to define, but when you speak of a recording artist's sound you know exactly what you're talking about.

Same thing with voice. If I have to tell you waht the term actually means, get a Snicker's. But I can speak of an author's voice and not look like I'm just throwing around a term that sounds cool.

For example, Neil Gaiman's voice is very even and conversational; even when he's describing scary bits he's doing in a friendly, laid-back, not-excited kind of way. He's emotionally attached to the story and the characters--you can tell that in the little interjections he gives about the character's thoughts, emotions, and backgrounds. But he never gets particualr revved up about anything, not even the most evil of villains. It's the kind of voice you would hear from the guy with two or three friends around him in a pub, telling about what happened to him at work.

In contrast, Tom Clancy is very cold, a distant observer. He doesn't get wrapped up into his stories; he's only there to tell the tale. He only gives you the necessary information to understand what's currently going on or the character's direct motivation and doesn't spend too much time on how the characters feel about what's going on around them.

triceretops
12-21-2006, 03:29 AM
This is an excellent question and one that I've not seen addressed on our boards that often. Ray has pretty much got it down. It's a narrative style, the unique way in which you utilize just about everything you know about the craft, including vocabulary, diction, and way you string sentences together. I love fantasy writers and admire what I call a "Lovecraftian" bent, the language that was used in the middle ages, and some writers can switch gears and write like Verne, and then craft a short which resembles something Hemmingway might have written--short and stark and "common."

Voice is not so much what the writer says, but HOW he/she says it. Like I say, I think it's an accumulation of everything you've learned and the way you express yourself. I steal from many writing forms. Rollins, is an action adventure writer, and I study the way he moves characters in and out of peril--including fight scenes. I admire the beauty in which Poul Anderson describes atmosphere and the phyical environment. I love King's use of metaphor and simili, although this is a heady wine for a new writer and should be used with great care and caution.

If you're voice is "strained" it means you're writing outside your parameters, and sometimes breaks up the continuity of the style, in toto. This happens to me when I research something and add it to the manuscript--it shows that academic bent and style shift. I have to learn to get more "seamless" when performing this.

I purposely set out to copy the styles of Alan Dean Foster, Poul Anderson, and Peter Benchley, because I fell in love with the way they conveyed thoughts and expressions. Of course I never reached a point where I could ever duplicate them. But what I found was that I am the sum total of all of them, with my own mindset thrown into the soup. Therefore, I AM unique, and think that I have discovered my own voice.

Voice can also be attributed to the way you handle characters, and King does this pretty well. Of course, with age, comes experience and a great sense of irony.

Voice grows over time. It's been said that J.K. Rowling was pretty much voiceless with the first book, (simple writing) but then you could actually follow her through the later editions and watch her grow and mature as a writer, where she stretched her literary legs and took more chances.

There are so many flags that define voice or set it apart, it's hard to nail down any one thing that is specific. But I would say that anyone who uses a lot of sentence fragments in their writing (and gets away with it), has developed (or habitually used) a style that works for them that can be seen in all their stories. This is just one example, but I think you get the picture.

I once started a thread here that was called "Who do people say you write like?" It was fun discovering something about yourself that you weren't aware of. Some of the writers confessed that they were suprised by other's opinions of their style. So voice/style, can be something that your unconcious mind dregs up and lays down over time. For instance, two literary editors tagged me as a cross between King and Roald Dahl. What? I wondered. Does that mean I have long, run-on sentences with lots of bubble gum and candy in there? Other's impressions of your voice will nearly always be different than your own perception. And that's when you'll know that you have arrived and are your own unique creature.

But I can't help but dream that one day I might morph into Poul Anderson. The true beauty of it is, I never will. I'll be me. Then somewhere down the road of time, a teacher might exclaim to her student, "Dang, you write just like Triceratops Stevenson. Well done."

Alas, writers are liars and literary thieves. And it's so great we don't get busted for it.

Tri

Nyna
12-21-2006, 04:45 AM
Dan Simmons has some interesting things to say about voice and style that you can find here: http://www.dansimmons.com/writing_welll/archive/writing_index.htm , which I think are worth checking out even if you're not a fan of his work. (I'm not, especially.) That's the link to the index for his 'On Writing Well' series, and he talks about voice and style mostly in part two.

The point he makes is this, mostly: literary voice is like pornography. It may be hard to define, but you know it when you see it.

greglondon
12-21-2006, 08:11 AM
Having read some of your stuff, batgirl, I'd say you definitely have a great voice in your writing.

MMcC
12-21-2006, 12:36 PM
If you want to get a grasp of voice in a simple, really solid way, watch the movie Christmas Story and pay attention to the narration.

Not only is his actual speaking voice distinct, but the way he says things stays with you forever. You could never hear it imitated without immediately recognizing the pattern.

triceretops
12-21-2006, 01:04 PM
Yes, and in that narration of Christmas Story, you know what stands out?
The clever use of metaphore and simili.

Tri

Dave.C.Robinson
12-22-2006, 12:01 AM
A coworker (who is also a writer) read one of my shorts the other day and compared the voice to Theodore Sturgeon. Not bad. The story's an Analog reject that I'm revising heavily for another market.

Freckles
12-22-2006, 01:10 AM
Good thread! My idea tone is the unique style of each writer. It's why we have our favorite authors, why we like some writers more than others.

SpookyWriter
12-22-2006, 01:34 AM
Good thread! My idea tone is the unique style of each writer. It's why we have our favorite authors, why we like some writers more than others.Would tone be the decibles or attitude that comes across from the work. An angry narrator for example could write a story where the tone is hostile. Whereas, the voice of the narrator might come across as educated and caring. Are these two attributes of writing the same or different?

triceretops
12-22-2006, 03:00 AM
Wasn't Mary Shelly in a negative frame of mind, or was it a vicious winter, when she wrote Frankenstein? It's so true that the attitude and genre can effect the voice of a story.

Strangely enough, I fall for the personality of the author when I read an engaging tale. I think to myself, "I'd like to meet that person." So I think it is true that the author splays themselves upon the page for all the world to see? Rowling must be fun, eh?

Tri

Birol
12-22-2006, 03:11 AM
Mary Shelly was recovering from the death of her child when she wrote Frankenstein. She was also on a vacation where she and those she were with were shut in because of the weather. They had a writing challenge to pass the time. That is, if I recall correctly. I'm not double-checking my memory here.

Willowmound
12-22-2006, 05:15 PM
Here's a quote for you: "Voice is what you can't help doing."

I don't remember who said it, but I like it.

Your voice is your style, the way you paint pictures with words, the feel of your prose. It's you as a writer.

Voice comes to you all by itself. After a time. When you've written enough words for it to find you. It finds you. Just write.

Birol
12-22-2006, 08:44 PM
This implies that you can't change your voice or style on command. While you might have a natural preference to write a certain way, I do believe that a professional should be able to control their voice and style to make the flow of the text work for them and fulfill their current needs.

icerose
12-22-2006, 08:49 PM
My voice changes from story to story as I rarely stick in one genre, then the book comes with a voice of it's own if that makes any sense. When I hear the characters speak and the words form in my head they tend to be fairly unique to that particular story. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing but it's me.

:Shrug:

Pat~
12-22-2006, 09:02 PM
I can't really add to anything that's been already said so well, except to say that I always thought of voice as a little bit like personality. Just as there are a lot of facets to someone's personality, an author might alternate between nonfiction and say, humor, but you'd still recognize their writing (to the degree that you are familiar with it). The one exception might be with writing where the author purposely sets out to restrict voice (eg. some academic writing, maybe?).

kwwriter
12-22-2006, 09:22 PM
Liken it to John WIlliams the composer. You can always tell his pieces of music, they have method that is unique to him as the creator.

Willowmound
12-23-2006, 04:14 AM
This implies that you can't change your voice or style on command. While you might have a natural preference to write a certain way, I do believe that a professional should be able to control their voice and style to make the flow of the text work for them and fulfill their current needs.

No no. There's voice, and then there's style.

The boundries are fluid, and one will affect the other -- but I do believe you'd recognise a writer's hand through different styles, if you know that writer well enough.

Birol
12-23-2006, 04:24 AM
I know it's possible to change your voice and style according to the project you're working on or to blend with another writer. Ghostwriters do it all the time. So do co-authors.

Willowmound
12-23-2006, 04:28 AM
Yes. It's a bit like people who copy paintings, or people who make forgeries by copying an artist's style (a newly discovered unknown Rembrandt!).

I'm talking about voice being 'you as a writer' (to quote myself). You can be someone else, sure. But then it's all style, the 'voice' is affected.

A lot of this is semantics. What I mean by voice, and what you mean...

K1P1
12-24-2006, 02:27 AM
I'm so glad this topic came up. I raised the question of how to develop "voice" in nonfiction back in August or September, but really didn't get any response. I write in a number of different voices depending on whether I'm writing a feature article, a technical article, a grant proposal, a press release... you get the idea. But I've wondered if there are exercises out there that I could do to help myself become more aware of what affects my own voice, and what effect it has on my readers.

Birol
12-24-2006, 02:38 AM
I write in a number of different voices depending on whether I'm writing a feature article, a technical article, a grant proposal, a press release... you get the idea.

Yes! Exactly. One voice does not equal one author. What we know as voice or style or voice and style or just one more set of tools in the writer's arsenal and it is up to us to know how and when to use them.

It's a bit like table manners. While it might be okay to pick up your food and eat it with your fingers in a North American burger or pizza joint, to do the same at a formal restaurant would just be bad taste. Yet the same individual who always knows which fork to use might also slouch and hook their elbows on the table at the local pizzeria. It's not that they have different personalities, but they know which manners, which style or voice, blends in best with which situation.

Adagio
01-03-2007, 03:33 AM
My idea is that a writer's voice and style are very closely related, and it may vary from one genre to another. For example, with a historical, the voice/style might be more formal and prestine. With an urban drama, it might be more contemporary and casual. I presume that when we talk of a writer's voice, we're actually talking about the narrative voice (that of a narrator, whether it's visible: 1st person, or invisbile: 3rd person).

Being new in this community, I took a leisurely path these days to browse threads, topics beyond the current day page. Many threads are so interesting that I can't help myself but to answer, and post my humble opinion.

Maestro, you have a good point. Voice and style, I believe, too, are closely related and subjected to the theme. BTW, I'm delighted to see that you've chosen a quote from Maranne Williamson. Thumb up!

I wish to learn how to handle more than one quote in one reply ... maybe I should ask for help.

Nyna, thank you for the link to Dan Simmons' site. Amazing!

Now, my 2-cents piece.

One of my favorite writers is Colm Toibin (Irish). In one of his books, The Blackwater Lightship, he uses a restrained, crisp, contemporary style (or we should call it voice?) appropriate to the theme of the novel: a shattered family brought together by a brother who's dying of AIDS. A reviewer calls it a "high-voltage restraint." (Robert Sullivan, Vogue)

But then Toibin surprises his readers with his The Master, a novel based on the life of Henry James. How daring! Voice (style) drastically changed, fashioned upon James' style and syntax. So one might ask: which voice is Toibin's true voice? For those interested in HJ, Toibin's The Master is a must read.