Wednesday, June 11, 2008

When Will the Voices End?!

I know I've done waaaayy too many posts on voice, but I found this post on BookEnds fascinating and had to share (also, I am waaaayy too tired to make up a post on my own:

Voice occurs through word choice. Your vocabulary isn’t limited, but the words you choose to use more often than not are. Soda versus pop? Where you live, your background, and your experiences determine your voice. They all come together to determine who you are, and how your words will sound on paper.
I think this sums up voice nicely. At it's base, voice is just the selection of words. However, there's a difference between a boring voice and an intriguing one...

So, how do you get a handle on voice? You begin to look for it. You analyze yourself and your writing. Is your voice active or passive? Do you love adverbs? Adjectives? Prepositional phrases? Pronouns? Look for what makes your writing work—that unique element in the paragraph you really love. Then you eliminate the stuff you overuse or that makes your prose sound flat.
Again, a basic. To me, at this point in my writing, voice comes in steps. Get the words on the paper (step one, what Dunway just describes as word choice). Then, edit (step two, what she's describing here).
Just as your fingerprints are original, so should be your voice. Write what you love, characters you can love, and your readers will love you. Your voice is what sets you apart from everyone else; it’s what adds that special sparkle to writing that editors are looking for when authors recycle the same basic plots over and over. I mean, what makes your amnesiac bride with the cowboy’s secret baby unique? It’s the way you tell the story, and the way you make your plot come alive through your voice.
And this is why I think that voice cannot be taught. It's part of your personality.


PJ Hoover said...

But your personality can change - either by your own desire or by external forces. You can work to change something about yourself and succeed. And wouldn't this change your voice?

Vivian Mahoney said...

Good post! I think voice is a reflection of how your characters experience their fictional world. Once all the aspects of the protagonist's personality has surfaced, it will be easier to find their voice.

I find the hard part is keeping the voice consistent...if the reader can recognize your character from a sentence or two, that is when the voices will end. :-)

Good luck!

Unknown said...

PJ--That's a great point...I think voice can change drastically, just as people can. Looking at my early work, I can already see a difference in voice...a difference for the better, I hope!

Vivian--I agree!!!

Tabitha said...

If you mean that Voice can't be taught in the way 5+2=7 is taught, then yes, it can't. Or, if you mean that *finding* one's Voice can't be taught, then maybe. I suppose it depends on whether pointing someone in the right direction is considered teaching.

Still, that's only one aspect of Voice. And I truly believe that the rest can be taught.

Sure, there are aspects of Voice that come from your personality. But so do many other aspects of writing - 3D characters, for example. If Voice can't be taught, then same argument could be made for writing well-rounded characters - it takes a certain skill to be able to see the world through someone else's eyes. So if you don't have that skill, does that mean no one can teach it to you?

From the Bookend blog:
"Your voice is what gives your characters life."
I agree with this, but what if your personality is flat and boring? Mine is. I'm not funny. I'm not witty. When I walk into a room or when I speak, no one notices. I'm nothing special, really. So does that mean I'm stuck with a boring Voice? Seems kind of limiting to me. So I would add that it goes both ways: Characters can also give your Voice life.

So I set out to learn how to write these strong-Voiced, interesting characters. And you can bet I didn't figure it out on my own, which means I had help. From authors, editors, books, wherever I could find it. they showed me things that I didn't know before, and did more than just point me in the right direction. They went over the definition, the different aspects of Voice, showed me examples, broke them down, then told me to put them back together. It certainly wasn't easy, and I could never have done this by myself. And I'm still learning. I still go over everything they've shown me, and I find more in it all the time. These people really taught me how to write Voice. And I would never have figured it out without them.

I'm also wondering if the reason Voice is so difficult to teach is that so many people have different definitions for it. :) Just my $0.02. :)

Unknown said...

Wow, Tabitha, that is really insightful! I agree with you that there are many different definitions of voice; that's one thing I struggle with when trying to identify it myself. And as I'm having a hard time with that with my current work in progress, it's something that I've been reading up on and blogging a lot.

You've raised such interesting points...I'm moving this out to the front page!