Thursday, March 17, 2016

Hurdles in Writing: What About Voice


Voice - What is it?





Like poetry, all writing has a cadence, a rhythm all it's own. The flow of sentences becomes your voice, and when the flow is disrupted, you can hit a discordant note.

While this is an accurate description, voice is not as easy as it sounds. I believe in the Author's voice. When you pick up your favorite author's latest novel, you have an expectation, and that expectation is what separates that author from others. It's their voice. You know it, without even realizing it.

There are many facets to the craft of storytelling, and most if not all are valid in some form. As I've said before, I don't believe in rules. I am an artist, and how I write my story is a blend of my craft and voice. Not only my voice, but the character's voice. Tricky huh? They are not the same.

I will use repetition to emphasize a point, and so far, I've been applauded for it. I don't do it often, but there are moments when it can raise the level of tension. There are times when filter words smooth a sentence, or even maintain the rhythm. Removing all the filter words, or as many as possible, is great when you want to build tension, but in romantic moments, longer and smoother usually works better.

Here are a couple of the hurdles I've experienced and seen.

- We all want to be the best writer we can be, and I believe voice to be a huge part of that, but never use voice as an excuse when someone is critiquing your work. I've seen this a lot, especially with new writers. Writing is a simple as putting pen to paper, or fingers to keys, but making it something people want to read usually requires more work.

So, how do you know when it's your voice, or something you need to work on? By knowing your voice. Be familiar with your rhythms. Reading your work, or having it read back to you will usually show your voice, and any discordant notes.

I used to critique someone who used adverbs in almost every sentence. The first couple of chapters, I pointed it out, and explained that they often weaken a sentence. He continued using them, so I stopped the lecture, because I knew he made a decision to use them. He wanted a traditional publisher, so when he finished his book, he queried, and since the storyline was good, he received requests for the manuscript. They all declined, based on the abundance of adverbs. Was this his voice? Apparently not, since he later removed them. As a reminder, I don't believe in rules. I use adverbs on occasion.

Another example was when I was working on Veiled Memories. I made so many changes to a chapter that my voice had been completely critted out of it. I couldn't figure out what was wrong, so I asked a critiquer who knew my voice for help. It took her ten minutes to find the areas I needed to change. This is why you need to know your voice. I had a lot of trouble with this when I first started writing, but I don't change things just because a critiquer said to anymore. It's your manuscript. You are responsible for the end result, and your name will be on the cover.

- My voice vs character voice.

When I first started writing, I didn't understand the difference in character voice, although I was doing it naturally to some degree. This is another area where you need to be careful. When writing in first or second viewpoints, most, if not all of your book, should be your main character's voice. When you're writing in another point of view, there will be your voice, and character voices.

Even after years of writing classes, I didn't understand that the character voices 'should' be different. Does Batman sound like Robin? Darth Vader vs Hans Solo. They don't sound like the writer, and they don't sound the same. Extreme examples, but I know most everyone knows these voices.

This was never an issue for me except when people corrected poor grammar in dialogue, or trimmed the longer sentences of the more articulate speaker. Many people use poor grammar when they talk. It also became a problem when I wrote The Carriage. I had two teenage girls, with different personalities. I had to constantly remind myself of the differences between them, and again, critiquer's tried to correct the grammar of my most obnoxious girl. I didn't have this problem with the brothers in the story. They were far more black and white in their differences.

So know your voice, and play back your work. I use Text Aloud, but there are other programs that will read your work back. And, pay attention to your critiquers. Know your voice, but don't use it for an excuse to not correct things or learn something useful. Think out what people say and make educated decisions, not emotional ones.




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