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Winston Churchill's Voice - Suffering From Elation
A Survivor's Tale
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Winston Churchill's Voice
Today I'm writing about voice. Not the sort that squeezes through you vocal cords and out of your mouth, but the sort that flows from your mind to your fingertips: your writing voice.

Developing a voice as a writer is one of those topics upon which instruction is sparse. Most of it boils down to this: You find a voice by writing as simply and directly as possible, allowing your own personality to show through; you develop a voice by reading many other writers and subconsciously picking up traits from them; and voice can't be taught.

Can't be taught? Well damn. I've spent the last couple of years teaching myself to write fiction through a mixture of reading every how-to manual I can get my hands on, attending every class I can find, reading as many books as I can (though I have done this since I was a teenager, when I used to front up at the local library and borrow twenty books every week, filling up my own library card along with those of the rest of my family) and of course, simply writing. The how-to manuals teach me, but they also enable me. I don't feel like a 'real' writer. I've never been to university for it and I feel as though, without that degree in my hand, I somehow lack 'permission' to write; that any writing I do must be the equivalent of a child running up to a grand piano and playing Chopsticks. Reading as many how-to books as possible is my way of assuring myself that writing is as much a craft as an art, and something I can learn without letters behind my name.

So this is where I run into a problem. There are no good resources that teach a writer how to develop voice. Presumably I have already developed one, in a haphazard way, but I want checks and balances! Voice is one of the last writing areas I've focused on because I see it as a finishing touch of sorts, the polish on the wood. Having a fantastic voice means nothing if you have nothing to say. Now I'm writing the second draft of my book and voice is becoming increasingly important, and will only become more so as I progress into the third draft.

An additional problem is the issue of developing your voice as an author vs developing your voice for a particular book. This isn't just a first-person POV issue; even when writing in third-person limited, a book from the POV of a shy forty-year-old man must by necessity have a different voice than a one from the POV of a bold child. I suppose the only kind of book in which the author's voice should dominate over the character's is one written third-person omniscient, and then it's the voice of the omniscient narrator / author you have to worry about. My book is written in third person limited. To find the voice of my viewpoint character, a driven nineteen year old girl who has become far too certain of who she is far too young, I drew heavily from memories of the sort of person I was at that age. Other than that, she isn't much like me - she's mathematically-minded where I was creative; sensible where I was a romantic, credulous where I was questioning.

Those of you who write: how do you feel about your voice? Have you tried to develop it deliberately or just let it happen? Do you change it considerably depending on your viewpoint character? Any pointers? ENABLE ME, PLEASE.

Oh. I mentioned Winston Churchill in the header, and he is relevant, I promise. He's known as one of the great orators of our time. What's lesser-known is that, as a child, he suffered from a terrible stutter. So his voice - his real voice, in a very real sense - was something he had to learn.
6 have fought ~ fight the power!
Comments
stonelizard From: stonelizard Date: June 4th, 2010 11:39 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree with your sentiment that without a degree it almost feels as though you are not qualified to write! That's why I plan on starting an english degree this year;) However, talent is not restricted to a piece of paper.

As for my voice - well, not really qualified to answer that one, but when I am writing, my voice is most certainly of me. I "talk" to myself a lot in my head and I can see it in my writing. My main character narrates most of the novel and subconsciously, I have realised that he speaks as me. My secondary hero is my naughty side and says the things I wouldn't but want to. I don't know if I have defined my voice as such but it is certainly there. My main character speaks in the same manner as my conscious does and I can see him throughout my writing. The scary part is now my own conscious is starting to speak as him. Schizophrenia or a good character? Who knows!

Don't know if that helps at all!

How is the second draft going? I am just finishing my third draft today, doing a read through then it should just be final tweaks. Getting scared now.
martes From: martes Date: June 4th, 2010 02:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Writer's voice is nothing I've ever thought of. I already have my hands full making sure the words read well and are gramaticly correct. One thing i have tried to do is keep my work pared down and to the point. I can't stand flowery, excessive narration.

Still would really like to see a review of that book I sent you!
thelauderdale From: thelauderdale Date: June 4th, 2010 04:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I write in the voice demanded by the story. I think that's what you get at in your fifth paragraph, when you say, "An additional problem is the issue of developing your voice as an author vs developing your voice for a particular book." That's an astute distinction to make, and honestly, I think it is better to focus on the individual work itself than trying to write some kind of unified corpus. Your lifetime output is not something you can know or plan *now*, and your "overall" voice, whatever that may prove to be, is not going to be static. It will change based on what and who you are writing about, and on what and who you become.

I'm not sure I know what my overall voice is, but I know I have one. I think the matter of *identifying* voice may ideally be left up to the readers: better not to focus on it lest it stall and worry you. I'd rather write and leave that kind of analysis to someone else.

Not that I don't enjoy analyzing and deconstructing my own work/plot/characters, just that the voice aspect is perhaps too abstract a concept for me to focus, beyond wanting to maintain a consistent and engaging tone. Tone plays into voice, but it isn't voice per se. Tone I can recognize and think about. Also, certain writerly weaknesses: I am prone to purple prose and the overuse of qualifying adjectives. That's something I try to curb where I can, and since "bad habits" such as this impact my writerly voice, I guess you could say that this is a place where I try deliberately to develop it.

Do you have weaknesses or "bad habits" that you recognize? How do you handle them?

Additional: I am reading Tolkien again, and he has been said to use "multiple" voices: there's the scholarly essayist (for prologues and appendices), the more conventional, intimate narrative he employs with his hobbits, and the elevated/mythological style he uses in moments of drama or with his Elves and Men. Anyway, it goes again to the point that *voice*, whatever that elusive quality may be, is dynamic and complicated and subjective.



Additional additional:
I don't feel like a 'real' writer. I've never been to university for it and I feel as though, without that degree in my hand, I somehow lack 'permission' to write; that any writing I do must be the equivalent of a child running up to a grand piano and playing Chopsticks.
I realize that you frame this as how you feel and not (necessarily) how you think, but I just wanted to say -

The history of written fiction is dominated by writers who didn't go to school for it. Certainly many men and women of letters were educated, but they weren't schooled in the writing of fiction. That is a modern development and while it is a way to glean valuable insights and to receive feedback and criticism on one's writing, it is *not* the only way. That said, how-to manuals are useful but for my part, I find reading fiction that I enjoy and the actual writing process itself much more useful, and after that communicating with other people who are also readers and writers (this covers everything from workshops to university classes to sharing your work with family/friends to putting your work up and soliciting reviews/advice online). I rank reading the "writing about writing" stuff after those so far as their usefulness to me personally, but your mileage may vary.
From: asathena Date: June 4th, 2010 07:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
OK, .... I think you're talking about two different things here.

Author's Voice and vs Character/Narrative Tone.

A character, like you said, is going to have a different tone to them depending on who they are; hoodlums speak differently than professors etc. etc. etc.

I think improving THAT comes from listening to the character carefully and being really honest about what you see them doing/saying in your head, even if it seems counterintuitive or strange or ugly/awkward.

As for Author's Voice...well, I'm not sure if that can be developed. You can learn your way out of bad habits so your writing don't sound like a hack's, but I'm not sure if anyone's going to be able to develop, say, a voice like Mark Twain's without being, you know, MARK TWAIN. Or Joyce. Or whichever big author you admire.

Aside from eliminating bad grammatical and stylistic habits in my writing, I haven't really sought to "develop" my voice.

I always thought of voice as being parallel to art style. As long as you know your structure, and are true to life/observations/TRUTH in the subject, your art style is going to come out one way or another, even if you do incorporate influences from other artists.

I'll try to research this in my writing bibles and see if I can get anything further to you.

Also, I started a blog about art + writing, maybe some stuff there will help get your juices going in the future (my favorite writing books are also listed at the bottom).
freetuningfork From: freetuningfork Date: June 5th, 2010 02:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Funny, it has never occurred to me that a degree in writing is any qualification for writing. It's true that my writing improved during my degree, but I'm unwilling to give anyone else much credit for that. It's entirely possible that would have happened anyway, and my writing did not improve in the ways my teachers seemed to be aiming for. I got better at the things I cared about, thought about, put effort into. My observation is that people get good at writing if they are interested in it, think about it, talk about it. That may or may not happen during a degree, and universities have no monopoly on thought.
c_eagle From: c_eagle Date: June 6th, 2010 08:08 am (UTC) (Link)
Since ya asked...

I am relatively satisfied with the voice(s) as a writer, depending on the story, whether reality or novel.

Trouble is, I say relatively because it's hard to be *fully* satisfied. Many people don't read like the majority of readers years ago. People miss things when grazing over material, and it's hard to know how to capture every one of them for the full paragraph. If you feel you've painted the FULL picture when you are through, then I guess that's about all one can ask.

it's good to have a few proofreaders help, too :}
6 have fought ~ fight the power!