Approaching Voice: summary of comments

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This is an attempt to summarize and organize the comments on my posting last week about voice. Thanks to these writers for making comments: Janni Simner, Joni Sensei, Sarah Miller, T.E. Wymer, Lori Van Hoesen, and Linda Urban. Apologies, if I’ve misconstrued anything. Read the full discussion.

Voice: A summary of comments

  1. What is Voice?

    • Define. Definitions of voice are fuzzy.
    • Describe. It’s easier to describe voices, but not much easier:
      Use categories of personality (witty, reserved, observant), narrative tendency/style of speech (mimicry, colorful language, precise speech) .
      Stripped away prose–straight to the point, powerful sentences that create lasting images (ex. Kate DiCamillo in The Tiger Rising)
      Imagery driven with personification (ex. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt)
    • Distinguish among. We distinguish narrative voice (for a certain piece) v. authorial voice (for a canon of writing)? (Does George Clooney always sound like George Clooney, or does he change with each character role?) (Or to reverse that, does Ebenezer Scrooge always sound like Ebenezer, regardless of the actor playing that role?)

      Narrative voice: word choice, attitude, tone, what the character notices, narrator’s voice.
      Authorial voice: transcendent. Complexity v. sparsity of prose, imagery, symbolism, challenge to the reader, provocativeness.

  2. The Appeal of Voice
    Do certain voices have a universal subjective appeal? Why do some people like a voice, but others don’t like that voice?
  3. Learning/Teaching Voice
    • Can narrative voice and authorial voices be taught?
      Some confidence that narrative voice can be taught (planned and structured), but some skepticism that authorial voice can be taught (gut issue: the best thing that most writers can do is get out of their own way). Structured/intuitive, craft/gut–back to this terminology again, but with the twist that some types of voice must be intuitive/are by nature intuitive and can’t be taught?
    • When, in the writing process do you begin to focus on voice?
      Lori uses the first few drafts to explore voice intuitively. In revisions, she focuses more on voice. Could that be reversed and a story begin with voice?
    • Practice and Play

      Write dialogue between vastly different characters: Ex. Biker chick, Pollyanna
      Do the same with a common topic: talk about how tired you are. Ex. of characters to use–single mother, 5 year-old child, 90 year-old man.
      Do Improv acting on that common topic from the differing POVs, then write again.

    • If you begin voice in a structured way, can it then become intuitive or more natural?
  4. Special Problems
    • Multi-voice Project
    • Historical project (or ghostwriting) where you have diaries, letters, interviews, etc. and must recreate the voice found there.
    • First person projects–how to deal with the differences of narrative voice and authorial voice.

More concerns? More to think about?
I’ll be out for a day or two, but will summarize again when I get back.

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1 Comment
  • Joni
    March 19, 2008

    Your parenthetical about ghostwriting got me thinking. In my day job, I used to write a lot of executive speeches. Which was really hard to do if I didn’t know the executive I was writing for or couldn’t spend a little time listening to that person talk in a meeting or something. Because I needed to get in my ear (and thus my head) their “voice” and the elements I could use to recreate it — bluntness or political correctness, favorite words/turns of phrase, sophistication of vocabulary (and favorite jargon and buzz words), sense of humor, sense of propriety, pace of phrases, complexity of sentences, and even things like the pitch of their voice, which has bearing (or so it seemed to me) on my selection of words for them — vowel-y or gravelly, ponderous or self-important or rapid-fire, etc.

    All voice issues applicable to fiction, IMO. It would be a good voice exercise to listen to a writer friend, or even someone on TV, talk and then try to write a speech for them. And repeat with the same topic but other people. Or even to transcribe the talking (not prepared speeches, which might not be theirs) of others on similar topics.