Sunday, October 18, 2020

Author Voice by Nancy M Bell

To learn more aobut Nancy's work please click on the cover above. What is Author Voice? Does everyone have one? What does it do exactly? I found a quote by Richard Nordquist which I thought summed it up quite well. “Voice is the music in writing that makes the meaning clear.” Sounds simple, but of course it’s not. Voice is hard to define and seems to possess chameleon-like characteristics. Changing from one minute to the next. Everyone has an author voice if you write anything at all. Even shopping lists. Some of you will make bullet points for your list, some will list items and where they plan to shop for them, others might categorize the list by price point. It all depends on your personal outlook and how you communicate. So, no matter what, we all have an author or writer’s voice, some of them are just more developed than others. What is Author/Writer Voice? Your voice is in reality the expression of you on the page. A unique collection of your world view, your passions, fears, beliefs and attitudes. A very good friend and mentor told me many years ago that you meet the writer in her books and stories not in her living room. I was young at the time and nodded sagely like I totally understood. It wasn’t until much later and with the seasoning of a few years that I understood what she meant. As writers, we reveal parts of ourselves we would never drag out into the light of day in a conversation or everyday life. Ah, but in our writing we can let those hidden aspects surface and run freely across our pages. Voice is unique to each writer and it’s about having the courage to express yourself on paper. To be a bit more technical: Voice is the unique and individual way an author puts words on paper, a compilation of idioms, syntax, punctuation, development of your characters, dialogue and sentence structure in a body of work. Voice is not choosing to write in first or third person, nor is it a specific technique or style. Voice isn’t about branding. An author’s voice tends to be consistent throughout their work. There will be slight variations depending on the genre an author works in. To complicate things a bit. There is also Character Voice, which exists within the Author Voice. No one wants to read a book with cookie cutter characters who all speak and act in similar ways. So the author must develop the characters in the story and give then each a unique voice, which will inevitably be some part of the author’s own unique voice and outlook. Each character will have their own way of speaking, certain phrasing and ideas they express that drive the story line forward. Every facet of ourselves can be given free rein in our work. Your cast may include authoritative characters, shy, warm, funny, silly, conceited, angry etc. All of these will reflect some part of the author, we can’t escape that fact. Our characters spring from our own wellspring of experience. The trick here is for each character to have a voice that is appropriate to their role in the work, consistent and believable. What is the Function of Voice in our Writing? A well rounded and honed voice makes every word count, set up a consistent thread through the work and speaks to the reader in a way that captures their attention. What is the Difference between Tone and Voice Tone is subset of Voice. Tone is the mood of the story or work while Voice is the personality. So while your voice might be described as ‘serious’ the mood of the individual piece may be quite humorous. In creating a Tone the author sometimes will use jargon or culture specific references. While this might be important if you are writing in a specific genre like Sci-Fi or Chick Lit, you also date your work and limit your longevity. Your writing will be around for years and if you reference a certain movie star or current trend, thirty or forty years from now most readers won’t identify with that. So, don’t be lazy and tell your reader the heroine looked like a Kardashian, or Helen Mirren, or Edward from Twilight. The more diverse your audience becomes the more important it is the you aspire for simplicity and clarity. Avoid slang and culture specific references. The exception to that, is of course, unless you are writing in a genre that your audience will expect it. Just know that you are aiming at a niche audience when you chose to write in that genre. Finding Your Voice Let’s explore how you go about finding that elusive Voice. There are three major elements to consider here: What do you want to communicate about yourself, of in the case of business writing, about the brand you’re representing. If you could ask your readers to describe your work in a few descriptive words, what words would you like to hear from them? What is the purpose of your writing? Your voice will moderate slightly if you are writing a novel, a movie review or an obituary. Decide what you want to convey to your reader. Will you need to use short blunt sentences, or longer descriptive passages? Who is your target audience? This will dictate the style and tone your Voice will acquire. Both of those being subsets of Voice. Take a minute to think about those three points and come up with a few words that apply to your voice. If you’re having trouble with that, think about what you don’t want to say. How is your voice different from anyone else’s? When you have a decent list, start to whittle it down. Scrap any words that aren’t really important, make sure the ones you keep are fairly specific. Pare your list down to four or five words. You can repeat this exercise every once in a while as your descriptors will change as your Voice develops and becomes fuller and multi-layered. Types of Voice Stream of Consciousness: narrative that is made up of the thought process of the characters. Examples are Faulkner’s The Sound and Fury. Character Voice: We spoke about this earlier. Character Voice allows the reader to experience the story from the eyes and POV the character. This can be achieved by the use of third or first person POV, depending on the genre and content of your work. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series is a good example of use of Character Voice. When she is writing in Claire’s POV it is first person, but when she switches to any of her other characters’ POV she uses third person. A clever convention to keep the reader from being confused while sub-consciously never letting them forget it is Claire who is the main character of her books. Unreliable Voice: The character speaks directly to the reader in a highly exaggerated and excitable way. This is usually employed in first person POV where the character is biased, childish or ignorant and tries to deceive the reader. This is a Voice that can be quite useful in horror or thriller genres to take the reader deep into the POV of the killer or psychopath. Poe uses this Voice in the Tell Tale Heart. Epistolary Voice: This voice is a narrative one which uses letters or documents to tell the story. It may employ multiple characters’ voices, or no character at all if the author has chosen to tell the story through various documents and letters. Shelley’s Frankenstein uses this Voice. Third Person Subjective Voice: This is a very passive Voice where a narrator relays the thoughts, opinions and feelings of the characters in the story. Hemingway’s Old Man and Sea uses this POV. Third Person Objective Voice: The story is told by a narrator who doesn’t touch on the character’s emotions or thoughts. It supplies an objective and unbiased (except the author’s own ingrained bias) POV. I’ll close with a quote form Rachel Gardner: “So how do you find your voice? You can’t learn it. You can’t copy it. Voice isn’t a matter of studying. You have to find it. And the only place you can find it is within you.”

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article. Sometimes a writer can have many voices.


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