Sunday, September 12, 2010

What's your voice?

I'm working on a class on voice, and I've gotten interested in how writers characterize their own voices. What words would you use to describe your voice?
I'm particularly interested in how you think your attitude or worldview affects your voice (like if you're pessimistic) or if you think your voice exhibits a worldview you don't share (like you're really an optimistic, but your voice is sort of grimly humorous).

Also, is your voice YOU? Or do you sort of have a persona-voice, you know, more knowing and erudite than you yourself? Is that possible?

If you write more in character voice, how does this reflect your own voice?

I don't know... but if you have thoughts about how your voice works, love to hear them!
Alicia

19 comments:

pattyjansen said...

I'm always baffled to no end when people say voice belongs to the writer. I treat voice as belonging to the character. I use a different voice for every character.

ClothDragon said...

There's a facebook thing that says stick in a few paragraphs of your writing to see which famous author you are most like. I got Stephen King, which was amusing in that I can't read horror without nightmares (so I don't).

But the little I have read suggests they're right; that my voice is closer to his. Stephen King uses simple language. Flowery is not a term you'd think to use to describe him. He stays away from high fallutin'. And this is a choice. What we're given to read through school is closer to 'literary'. If a big word can be used instead of a little word, it is. He (and I, though I can honestly say I hadn't considered it until my writing was matched with his name) purposely choose a little word where a little word will work.

Should I choose to write an over-educated snobbish person, I would try to convey it in his/her word choice (dialogue) or actions, but my voice would still purposely use simpler words where simpler words will work.

Husband is reading Steven Brust. I have been warned away in such way that I will probably not follow along afterward, but from what I've heard, read a chapter of his book and read a chapter of a Steven King book and you'll see what I mean. I'm laughing at myself for writing about two authors I haven't read, but I would suggest that they both have recognizable voice and they are pretty close to the opposite ends of the spectrum.

Edittorrent said...

I've been reading Ulysses, and every chapter is an experiment in narrative, and "voice" is one aspect of this. (The chapter I am reading is written in the literary voice of Bloom, while earlier chapters have been in the "mental" voice of Bloom, and he writes much more flowery!) And then I realized that this-- this fluency in other forms, this willingness to experiment-- is Joyce's voice. Also the delight in puns and other language tricks.

Patty, if you get away from thinking of voice as word choice and think of it as attitude toward language, I think ceding control of the narrative to characters is a voice choice. For example, you probably choose to write certain types of books where the character narration is common ("Deep POV") and choose NOT to write books where the narration is written outside the character. Like writing in character voice can be difficult when you have a lot of POV characters, as the constant shift in voice can be jarring to the reader. So I bet you don't have a lot of main characters?

I thought I always wrote in character voice until I started analyzing my own writing as an exercise. Turns out that all the characters sounded like me. Hmm.

Alicia

elfarmy17 said...

I think my writing voice is pretty much the same as my internal voice.
The weird thing is, though, I often narrate whatever I'm doing inside my head in 3rd person past-tense such as when I'm walking to class "she exited the classroom and began to walk down the hallway, dodging people as she went" while I usually write in first person.

Sherry Cahill said...

My voice is definitely my inner voice. Often what ends up on the page is what I'm really saying in my head when the outer me looks sweet and innocent or completely blank. Still waters and all...

Annikka Woods said...

I write in the voices of my characters, but I can also recognize a common thread through all of them that I can still identify as me. It's hard to explain, but I manage not to have the characters sound like ME without losing myself.

Edittorrent said...

elfarmy, I used to do that too. "She walked up the stairs, despair in every heavy step." :) Trouble is, the narration of my life was always boring, because my life was boring!

Alicia

C.L. Gray said...

I'm going to sound a little schizophrenic, but each character has its own voice in my head -- the way they talk and how they view. When I write for each character, I hear that voice in my head and I listen to it.

Then what develops is a rhythm, almost a melody. And that rhythm of how a character speaks then becomes dominate. I don't know if that makes sense. But I have an internal rhythm that I listen to and that is my voice.

Indigo said...

I think of voice as delving into certain personality traits. I tend to be sarcastic with a quiet confident demeanor. Which could easily translate as confidence and smug attitude in a character.

When I say personality traits, take for example: I write edgy female characters - yet, on my blog I come across as inspiring and eloquent. Writing as inherently different as the personality traits we display, for whichever situation we find ourselves in. (Hugs)Indigo

Anonymous said...

Very good thoughts here! I like "inspiring" as a voice marker. Hmm.
Alicia

pattyjansen said...

It's funny, because I loathe writing in multi-POV. I never feel connected enough to any one character. Sure, I have written in multi-POV and the readers don't seem to mind my multi-POV scribblings, but I find it hard to write.
My preferred choice is first person, but some voices just can't be written in first (can't explain why other than 'it just doesn't feel right'), for example if the character is slightly formal or distant. I've done all combinations of POV, even first/first or first/third POV character alternations.
I'm all for experimenting with voice/POV choice.

MrsMusic said...

I know my own voice since I tried to write my novel in 1st person - and increasingly was annoyed by the voice of my protagonist, which is slightly more chatty than mine, sometimes flippant; and I missed the calm rhythm of long, swinging phrases I use to produce, and some stylistical finesse. Now I write 3rd person, which gives me the possibility to wander around between my and her voice.
(In general, my characters have very strong voices of their own; to me, it's even one of the most important ways to characterize them.)
Maybe this experiment works, if you are unsure about your own voice: If you switch from 1st to 3rd person, what changes? Which particularities do you notices that hadn't been there previously?

Jami Gold said...

The part of me that carries through is probably sarcasm. Even if my characters aren't particularly sarcastic, they still have some wry internal monologue or asides to share.

Other than that, my voice is very much a product of my characters and their worldview. They say things and put words together in ways I never would.

Edittorrent said...

Great thoughts! I like that idea, Mrs, that third lets you "wander" between character and your voice. It doesn't have to be an "either-or," does it?
Alicia

elfarmy17 said...

Jamie- me too!

Mina @cluttery said...

I'm confused. A character's voice isn't the same thing as an author's voice--the author's voice is how it's all put together, how she makes all those different characters into one cohesive, flowing work of art.

See, I could have used "novel" instead of "work of art," but I stopped myself, because my writing voice is descriptive and specific. Generic words bother me. But one of my characters speaks very plainly, and generic-ly.

I tried to co-write with someone whose voice is much lighter and funnier than mine. Her edits ruined the depth of my prose, making it chatty and hokey, and mine dragged hers down to ordinary. We thought we'd be a good match, balancing each other out, but in the end, it was flat. Not disjointed, but flat. We both lost our respective voices.

I haven't found a book that was co-written that I thought was really good. Is there one? I think it's voice throwing me off. I especially hate when authors alternate chapters. I can always tell.

Bethany Michaels said...

I generally find the funny in most situations in life and I think that carries through to my author voice. I'm pretty sure everything I've written has some humor in it, even if it's subtle. I just can't resist!

Edittorrent said...

Bethany, I think you're right-- if you have a humorous attitude towards life, that will show up in your "voice".
A

Edittorrent said...

@Mina There's the Rita-winner that Alicia co-wrote with Lynn Kerstan. I always thought that was well written. And Crusie/Mayer do a good job of balancing voice, too, though they do tend to alternate a bit. But I think that's part of their charm. ymmv

T