Monday, September 2, 2013
I often think that there's too much mystique associated with finding "a writing voice." After all, voice is more than style. By "style" I mean the way a writer uses words, diction, syntax, and rhythms of long and short sentences that makes their work distinctively different from any other writer's.
There's also the adage that a writer must write a million words to find their "voice." Isn't that a lot of wasted trial and error?
In reality, fiction works best when it keeps a reader turning pages, so it really doesn't matter what style or voice is used as long as the reader enjoys the narrative and keeps reading to "the end."
With the best of omniscient-narratives, the words on the page resonate within the reader's mind with a very distinctive "storyteller's voice," one that's worth listening to and which stands out from any other character's voice in the story.
In what's called "deep" Point of View and Viewpoint, the narrative is done by the character who is living the scene or story, and who is a story-person not a puppet-character being manipulated by an author. Character-narrative allows the reader to experience a roller coaster of emotions on an intimate level, up-close and personal, as the drama unfolds.
But here's the secret to writing "in a character-voice" and having that character's words and thoughts be different from every other character in a story: it's the author listening— truly listening—with an inner ear, to how that narrating character actually speaks and thinks with emotional relevance (i.e. feelings or with a highly opinionated mind-set). Thus the words reflect that character-narrator and not the omniscient-author.
Over the years of learning the many devices of writing good fiction, I've come to the conclusion that a loss of, or a lack of, a "voice" is more due to writers striving to write the way they were taught—which is omniscient reporting of events in a factual (unemotional) manner and following the strict rules of grammar, punctuation, and formal, literary writing.
Yes, initially that education enables people to communicate with each other, but such writing doesn't work for fiction. Why? Because readers need to hear the voice of the story's or scene's narrator, which allows emotions to resonate. Those words must also reflect a storyteller or story-person who has genuine feelings and believable opinions based on their education, upbringing, and world-view. In other words, it's not a reader looking at words on a page and reciting them in their own mind-voice.
So, as you read this essay, did you hear my distinctive voice, or your own?
More importantly, if you didn't hear my voice, why not?
And think about this: if you cannot discern one writer's voice from another's, it stands to reason that you likely cannot tell if your characters are real story people or puppets, right?
*** This blog is updated the first of each month. @2013 by Catherine E. McLean * www.CatherineEmclean.com
*** The topic for October 2013 is "Fear and Confidence."
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