Friday, August 15, 2008

The Writer's Voice


"Writers aren't exactly people ... they're a whole bunch of people trying to be one person."

F. Scott Fitzgerald



I'm pulling a comment from the 'fact in fiction' entry for this one. TC mentioned a writer's voice and that an editor said his writing sounds like him as he speaks.

I've seen a lot of writers saying they need to "find" their voice for their work. Do we? I guess I never worried about it. I always expected my characters to simply speak as who they are, since I write in close third person POV, and I try to give them their own voices. I never thought about what part of it was my voice. And then someone who knows me well said when she reads my work, it's like I'm sitting there telling a story because she hears me in it.

I would guess that's my voice. *shrug* It's just there and it comes out unintentionally. I've also been told I say things in funny ways when I talk and sometimes others don't quite get it or have to stop and figure it out. I was quite taken aback by that one. I know how to use English, after all! I actually use it properly most  of the time. My husband said that was the issue ... I talk like a writer, not like a regular person.

If I write the way I talk and vice versa, I suppose that's my voice and my writer's voice and they're both the same. I wonder now if other writers think there are two different voices -- the natural voice we use without thinking about and a separate voice we use purposely for writing. Are there more voices down there trying to get out? Or is there only one?


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TC said...

Isn't it more likely that writing fiction would require a "different" voice? Or at least an incorporation of another, perhaps "invented" voice, or two, or three? Are you not using different voices for each character you create when writing fiction?

You say you expect your characters to speak as who they are, and I understand what you mean. But how do they become who they are? When an author creates character development through narration and voice, and all the other things a writer uses, mustn't some part, even if minuscule, of the author seep through? I think it does without an author even knowing it.

The voice I use in the articles for my gardening column, is flesh and blood TC; the voice I would use to write fiction probably wouldn't be.

And those "voices down there trying to get out"? They're probably demons in some form or other. At least in my case anyway. Scary.

TC said...

LK, I came across a book review that I'd like you to consider:

Let me know if the Web address takes you to the NYT article.


LK Hunsaker said...

An author's voice absolutely sinks into any character's voice since that character IS part of the author in some way. It is also separate from the author's voice.

They have to have their own way of speaking, think things the author doesn't agree with (at least some of them have to), and use references the author wouldn't use in personal life. My character Kate, who is a model and wanna-be actress, is a counter to the main female character, Susie, a dance teacher. Susie's voice is generally soft-spoken with humility and a huge deference for all life. She notices nature in a respectful way and sees the good in people. Kate wouldn't know a hummingbird from a starling and doesn't care. I don't "tell" the reader that. I show it through what they say and how they say it. Their speech patterns are different. Susie is also well-read and uses phrases showing she is, while Kate is very forthright and mangles grammar at times.

They are two completely different voices. But, of course, there is no way to completely remove my own voice. Hopefully, it's much more apparent in the narrative than in the dialogue. Still, using close third POV, I try to keep narrative in the POV character's voice, as well. My readers could tell you better than I can if I achieve that.

Demon voices? Well, I'm sure I have some of those, also. All novels need villains. Let them out.

LK Hunsaker said...

Book Review:

Wow, that was more like a book attack!

"His essential point is this: Novels and short stories succeed or fail according to their capacity ... to represent, affectingly and credibly, the actual workings of the human mind as it interacts with the real world."

Interesting thought, and that's likely true of literary fiction. However, there are a lot of genre novels out there that have little reality of the human mind interacting with the real world that still are quite successful. Not all readers want something that deep. Some of them only want escape from the reality.

"For the vicarish Wood, sequestered in his chamber, part of the fiction writer’s true vocation appears to be acoustic regulation — the engineering of a mental space in which literary whispers can be heard.

Acoustic Regulation. Of course it is part of our job. I think it's generally referred to as mood and setting. But yes, we as writers have to pull readers out of wherever they are and draw them into our novel's world, providing a separate space in which to crawl. Is that related to voice? I'm not sure.

Jenna watched her husband approach. His chest muscles contracted and expanded in reply to the stretching of his arms, first overhead, then behind his back. He had been working for hours. She had made lunch, which he hadn't bothered to stop for, flipped through a magazine while sitting at the table alone, cleaned the dishes and counters, taken a load of laundry down to the machines in the basement, and was sitting with her most recent novel from the library while waiting for the dryer to finish.

Daniel set a hand on her shoulder while grabbing a glass from the stand beside her chair.

Her eyes traced his arm, fell to his stomach. She loved the warm days when he didn't bother with a shirt.


While reading a descriptive passage from the character's POV, are we really still hearing the author? When you read that, did you hear me as you do in the rest of my posts? Is it my voice that (hopefully) transported you elsewhere, or Jenna's? Or your own view of what you see in the scene that may be different than what I saw while writing it?

It can't be only the author's voice, since all reading is interactive, just as if we're both sitting on the same porch, we're noticing different things and feel differently about what we see.

I'm maybe drifting away from what caught your interest in the review, though.

[excerpt from "Finishing Touches" 2003]

TC said...

LK: Here's two responses, the first is in reply to "voice," and the second is in response to that book review.

1) I think I'll reread that fiction piece I wrote for my college creative writing class and see if I can determine who wrote it. It may open a line of thought that I've somehow managed to keep locked up. (Will it also release those demons?)

I understand about character foil, and letting readers figure things like that out on their own. Narration, at least the way I see it, serves as a guide, keeping a reader on course or allowing a completely new one. Dialogue creates the scenery, but also does much more in that it communicates character. I think narration and dialogue both do more than I've stated here; if it weren't for either of them, there'd be no way we could tell a story.

2) At times, the NYT Sunday Book Review reviewers sound a bit pretentious. It's not the first time I've had to look up the
meaning of terms like "vade mecum." They can also be nerdy logophiles with their lengthy attempts at literary humor:

"With the whole Western canon at his disposal, apparently, Wood begins to shape a general argument whose moderate, neoclassical simplicity and preference for precision and clarity over mere vigor and potency seem initially like the hard-nosed wisdom of someone who’s read a million pages, seen all writerly tricks a thousand times and attained the detached, big-picture perspective of an orbiting critical satellite."

Why didn't he just say, "Wood needed to back his argument with a little more sustenance"? (It only took me 11 words vs. Kirn's 62.)

Anyhow, I agree with you, it did sound more like an "attack." I skimmed most of the review, after sloshing through the first two paragraphs it became a burden to read more.

To answer your question: No, I didn't hear your voice in that excerpt. It wasn't at all like the voice you use when corresponding
with me, nor was it anything like your voice when we first spoke in person. The voice I heard in the excerpt was that of a somewhat omniscient narrator, perhaps Jenna is such a narrator. But no, it definitely wasn't your personal voice as you use it here.

And no, you didn't "drift" from what I aimed for you to see in that review.

My! it's so very refreshing having these types of discussions.


LK Hunsaker said...

That review was very pretentious. Most of the big newspaper reviews are and I generally steer clear. Using long drawn out wandering sentences to show how many words you know doesn't make a good writer. Telling a good story and making it clear enough to keep a reader pulled in and interested is more important, and most often favored.

That's the problem I'm having calling my work literary. I started Thomas Wolfe's "Look Homeward Angel" a couple of nights ago. It's an American literary fiction classic and on the "must read" list of literary fiction ... but although I enjoy many of his thoughts and some of the interesting phrases, much of it is somewhat ... uh, overbearing. I find myself skimming.

This is why classics have such a bad name. They don't have to be pretentious to be worthy fiction. I think too many critics miss that point.

On your story: maybe journal about the story. Read it and let yourself write anything that comes to mind about it. I'm interested in whether you find out who wrote it.

An aside ... I used your thoughts about demons in my other blog. Maybe I'll edit and add and post it here, also.

I'm very much enjoying the conversation, also. I've invited other writers and readers to try to expand it, but maybe philosophizing about writing isn't everyone's cup of tea, excuse the cliche.

TC said...

Do you think "literary" anything might be thought of as highbrow? I also think social class might have a bearing on what folks read and how it's interpreted. Just my thoughts here, I'm sure you would know more about that aspect.

LK Hunsaker said...

LOL, I'm not sure I know more about it. ;-)

I suppose literary is looked at as highbrow. I suppose my blog title may be turning people off for that reason, although I don't consider myself highbrow!

It's funny how we pervert word meanings to fit our needs. Literary should only mean having to do with literature. Literature is something written, including pamphlets. But both have taken on a highbrow connotation.

I think it's more education than social class, other than that higher social classes have typically been more educated. It's a bit like the chicken and the egg.

TC said...

I don't think "Literarily Indie" sounds highbrow at all. And I completely agree with your meaning of "literary."