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writer’s voice – concrete definition?

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  • #103489
    Edmund Lloyd Fletcher
    @edmund-lloyd-fletcher

    Okay, so i already have a definite “voice” to my writing.  But tat just kind of happened all by itself.

    My question is what, by concrete definition, is a writers voice and what components make it up?

    It seems to me that nailing down this vague concept of “voice” would be of great benefit to those searching for one.

    Moreover, if we had more of a grasp on this definition, perhaps then it would become something that could be deliberately crafted instead of “just happen”.  For example, to be able to answer things like:  Is my voice ideal for my genre, or are there some elements that i should think about tweaking?

     

    Homeschooling father of 10, writing Christian action/adventure novels from my home high in the Rockies.

    #103496
    Buddy J.
    @wordsmith

    @edmund-lloyd-fletcher

    *grins* Voice is one of my favorite things ever… and I’ll be following this conversation… and maybe add something at some point.

    Published author, reader of many books, Student in writing, and Lumenite!

    #103500
    DeepRun
    @deeprun

    Almost every artist can be identified by the way they represent their subject; via brushstrokes, lighting, composition, media, etc.

    Would a writer telling a story be any different?  We could see the same events happen, yet tell it very differently.  I believe the individual way a writer conveys their story; what things they choose to emphasize, word choice, sentence structure, etc, would be their voice.  Their retelling of a story.

    You do not have a soul. You have a body.
    You are a soul. - C.S. Lewis

    #103501
    Taylor Clogston
    @taylorclogston

    This isn’t a concrete definition, but if we had one I think we wouldn’t be discussing it =P

    I believe a narrative voice (which belongs more specifically to an individual text rather than to the writer himself) comprises the body of stylistic choices the writer makes over the course of that text’s creation.

    This can include less orthodoxically controversial, such as the decision to avoid contractions, which everyone agrees is acceptable according to the basic rules of style, divorced from individual context.

    It can also include deviation from the body of orthodox style, such as the choice to begin sentences with “and.”

    I think beginning writers should try to tone down their style as much as possible. It’s a cliche that you need to know the rule before you break it, but it’s a useful one =P At the very least, writers need to learn which aspects of voice are more subjective than others.

    And I maintain, as I always do, that copying out diverse texts which have voices you wish to internalize is the best way to develop your style in a focused manner.

    "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

    #103504
    Buddy J.
    @wordsmith

    @edmund-lloyd-fletcher

    @taylorclogston


    @deeprun

    I wonder if we might think of this in the context of actually coaching  someone… what would we tell them? As in, we’re there to help them… not just give advice from the side (that’s often a good and necessary thing, but I’d like to look at it from a different perspective, if only slightly).

    There are two things that, when they meet in the right proportions, I think make up great coaching in many fields, especially in the realm of letting the artist learn through experience that then builds conversation to talk things out.

    -An artist needs to know that he (or she) is free to work, learn, and make mistakes. That it’s a beautiful thing, and maybe the greatest part of learning is the mistakes themselves, that the coach will be there to help through that. An artist often needs the coach to help lift them up as they work, bring encouragement.

    -Secondly, an artist needs to be pushed by the coach to reach goals or standards. This means the coach will probably help make sure the artist has what he needs to do this, to one degree or another… but also “requires” (in the coaching kind of way) the artist to push for it, and absorb the mistakes but push through.

    Both of these are forms of encouragement, and the do overlap, and some artists need a lot more of one than the other at certain times of need.

    In this context… when preparing something for an artist to pick up and look at, to figure out how to use, they want something they can trust. Something that offers hope in the short term and the long term, and probably does have at least some structure for him or her to work in. There is always a level of objectivity.

    As Talyor Clogston said, it’s important to know the rules before you can break them… and I agree with this in a lot of ways, but it’s not actually how I learned. And it’s not how a lot of artists learned… and I think the writers that learn in our “unorthodox” way tend to develop voice in a more prominent manner, because they aren’t working in that structure. They pull from an intuitive place of understanding and storytelling that formulates how their writing voice flows. And it’s been my experience that orthodox training tends toward artists have less defined “voices” in distinction, where our unorthodoxly trained artists thrive in the idea of voice (even if they’re not confident in it).

    If I were coaching someone… I might first off let them know that if they don’t have the voice they’re looking for, I have no doubt they’ll find it. I’d also show them where the voice is and comes through in their writing, and maybe point them to where they can develop voice. Most authors that I hear complain about their writing voice have a lot more of it than they realize… in an individual way. And though voice is subjective to the author, it is comprised of understandable and concrete ideas.

    And, I’ll leave it at that for now. My brain goes on long explorations of such ideas… and I’d better hold it back for now. Please pick apart what I’ve said. Or just respond as you see fit. I’m here to talk through the ideas more. But, when I think through things like this… especially when thinking about coaching or helping… I try to figure out what is objective and what is subjective. And I think in this case, the tools are objective but can be subjectively applied… which is something that can be taught. One top of that, there are voices that hold more artistic strength than others.

    *shuts his mouth to see what others have to say*
    *also takes out note pad and pen*

    Published author, reader of many books, Student in writing, and Lumenite!

    #103505
    Daeus Lamb
    @daeus-lamb

    @edmund-lloyd-fletcher

    I was just reading an SEer’s blog and she said she’d just found her voice and it was “deeper and darker” than she would have thought.

    That rang true. Finding your voice is similar to finding the “true you”. Society might have pushed you to be jocular, but maybe you feel most at home with sadness.

    This relates to a concept @hope-ann recently brought to my attention. It seems every author has a core theme that every scene they write is about. Hope’s is identity. Mine is how one person’s life ripples out and affects others. One friend’s is about love. Another’s is about innocence or the loss of innocence. You might need someone else to point it out to you, but you probably have such a theme. And that’s part of your voice.

    So it’s part soul. And Taylor already aced describing how it’s part style. And I just started a sentence with and. Ha!

    😀
    👕👍
    👖 🐢🐢🐢🐢🐢

    #103507
    Buddy J.
    @wordsmith

    @daeus-lamb

    So then, maybe looking at the side of what the voice means? Which is highly subjective to the artist.

    Published author, reader of many books, Student in writing, and Lumenite!

    #103508
    Taylor Clogston
    @taylorclogston

    @wordsmith I feel like you’re getting off topic a bit. That sort of conversation is really interesting (and I think it’d be great to have it in a different thread) but I think Edmund’s original question precludes yours.

    We talk a lot as writers about things like authorial voice but don’t tend to share definitions beforehand. We can’t really have conversations about questions like yours until we agree on whatever we hold in common with questions like this =P

    So do you have an additional facet you’d like to propose about what makes up an authorial voice? I’m interested to see what you have to say. I see you occasionally around the forum but have never really seen you “in action,” if that makes any sense .

    (btw thanks @daeus-lamb for the bit about your voice being part “your true self,” I found that really interesting. And let it be known that “and” is the way all the cool kids open sentences 😎)

    "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

    #103509
    Buddy J.
    @wordsmith

    @taylorclogston

    Yeah! So, I mentioned a few things about the definition of voice in that it’s the objective tools subjectively applied. Now, you’re right… it might seem a bit off topic, and for that I apologize. ‘Tis not my goal. I merely enjoy working with direct application when dealing with concepts like this… because it tends to help me tie something together. Only, I tend to work from a visionary perspective, so allow me to rephrase more concretely.

    I believe voice is an essential part of what creative or artistic license means. This means we have the tools we need, and then produce with those tools part of our soul (as Daeus mentioned). And if we can define what those tools are (the objective, that you spoke of) we can then learn how to form the art (or subjective as DeepRun mentioned). That being said… though it is subjective… because we are using objective tools it is something others can help us strengthen.

    When I write… I pull my voice a few different places. I like to use third person… because I tend to write from the world to the character. Where my character is either derived from the world, and thus reflects its attributes, or is placed in a conflicting world, thus contrasting its attributes. But either way, I tend to write the story from the world to the character.

    This is how I relate with the world, myself. So, a lot of my stories use action a lot. Action is something I’ve worked on for a long time.

    A second part of my voice has to do with making the world sound like it has a voice itself. I want the story I’m telling to be told by the way the world or setting responds to things… and in so, the character doing the same.

    And third, as Daeus mentioned, I have the signature of the heart I’m writing from. And I write that through the world and character, as the thread that holds it all together.

    As I work all of these things… my goal is to study the flow of language, its colors and sounds. One of my favorite quotes is by Ursula LeGuin: The chief duty of a narrative sentence is to lead to the next sentence—to keep the story going. Forward movement, pace, and rhythm are words that are going to return often in this book. Pace and movement depend above all on rhythm, and the primary way you feel and control the rhythm of your prose is by hearing it—by listening to it.

    I adopt this style (as much as possible), as well as looking at extremely vivid descriptors like N.D. Wilson and (finally) Markus Zusak.

    I look at the rhythm in my writing through action, through that description, through the world that is sewn together by the heart of my writing, and reflects my characters. And right now, what I’m working on the most… is giving the characters depth in that flow of voice.

    So, what I see is that as we strengthen the mechanics of style, syntax, and then description… and even dialogue, we’ll be able to write and work with setting our heart into the mix, and building a voice that speaks to people… a voice that seems alive

    In Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov… his voice is a continuous and layering flow that, if relaxed into, will carry the reader into the depth of his characters… and make them living voices. N.D. Wilson makes his worlds alive, by taking their concrete natures and building into them more concrete images that describe in vivid color (to the characters’ minds)… through the world. Markus Zusak lets the narrator of his story go. And it’s beautiful. He gives the voice of the story free reign to study the world, and connect dots. To find beauty and make the strangest connections… but that make so much sense. The voice takes the beautiful constructs of language, and pulls them together in flashes of imagery that don’t let us forget what we’re actually looking at, but only make it more vivid… in sadness, humor, and a wish to bring peace.

    Is that more what you were looking for? That’s my study of voice. Some writers handle it differently… but all of them work from a basis of how they want to portray… with an objective tool of communication. Orson Scott card uses a deceptively simple prose to leave no space between the reader and character’s mind. And if a writer comes to us looking for help with voice… I’d say it starts with understanding the language… even if not by orthodox training… and learning to apply your heart through it.

    Published author, reader of many books, Student in writing, and Lumenite!

    #103534
    Taylor Clogston
    @taylorclogston

    @wordsmith Thanks for deepening your previous discussion! I’m afraid I’m having a hard time following you. That might be from your heavy elliptical style, but it’s probably just me.

    So I think that everyone so far, you and myself included, agree that voice is “Those aspects of writing which, intentionally or not, differ you from other writers.”

    And we probably each have our own degrees to which we think those “aspects” can be attributed to voice and not just to something like genre.

    That brings me back to the moreover which Edmund mentioned. If voice is a subjective thing, how do we determine whether it needs to change or how it can change? Specifically regarding Daeus’ note on the Butlerian notion of a germ of yearning at the core of your writing, I think that’s a tough thing. I already mentioned how I develop style, but I’m at a loss for developing yearning and all the accoutrement of life that seems like it creates some of our greatest writers.

    Aside from seeking a fraught life, I mean, which isn’t something I tend toward on my own. I like my wee cloister of an apartment in its space far away from social activity, thank you very much.


    @edmund-lloyd-fletcher
    At this point, what are your thoughts on our thoughts?

    "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

    #103537
    Buddy J.
    @wordsmith

    @taylorclogston

    My bad. Yes. I use ellipses in texting all the time, to indicate a pause in speech or more like parentheses. It relates to my trains of thoughts and how they lay out on the page as I think them. I don’t know when I started doing it, but it’s always been a comfortable way of typing for me. I’ll work to keep them out. Sorry.

    Published author, reader of many books, Student in writing, and Lumenite!

    #103539
    Buddy J.
    @wordsmith

    @taylorclogston

    And I think that when talking about voice, even if the definition is “our depth of heart coming through the language” in a particular way, we still need to talk about why the language makes voice itself. If the mechanics applied are how we understand and use voice, I think that we can explain voice by way of the tools of language while still taking into account that it’s going to be applied by another individual with their own mind.

    “Those aspects of writing which, intentionally or not, differ you from other writers.” I don’t think this deals with how we might answer the question of whether or not a voice might fit with a genre, or other questions though, not unless we understand that which makes a voice strong and actually work. Which, we can and do study.

    Thoughts?

    Published author, reader of many books, Student in writing, and Lumenite!

    #103547
    Taylor Clogston
    @taylorclogston

    @wordsmith No worries regarding the ellipses =P It kind of plays into the topic. It’s something that works for you, and maybe works for your general audience, but is different enough to orthodox punctuation that someone like me has trouble interpreting it.

    “we still need to talk about why the language makes voice itself.”

    Well, yeah, but that’s the easy part. Maybe. I’m pretty sure. That’s where the orthodox part of the training comes in, since we can draw from decades and centuries of people who’ve made careers out of figuring out how language works.

    “we can explain voice by way of the tools of language while still taking into account that it’s going to be applied by another individual with their own mind.”

    I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about. What do you mean by “tools of language?” You mentioned things like rhythm and syntax earlier. I assume you generally mean “literary devices.” Beyond that, I don’t know what the “while still taking into account…” part onward means.

    This is where the more orthodox training bit comes in. A person may have internalized every facet of language which could ever exist, but if they lack the vocabulary to talk about it, it’s difficult for them to interact with others in the field.

    Oh, I was going to throw the entire bulk of literarydevices.net at you for you to peruse, but I remembered they actually have an entry for voice. It’s really just some faceless organization’s definition, but the site in general is pretty neat.

    ” I don’t think this deals with how we might answer the question of whether or not a voice might fit with a genre,”

    That is at the very least a question it can answer. If we look at our intended audience and figure out what we cannot deviate from to serve them, then we know what freedom we have to differ in every other regard. If I’m writing grim reaper academy books and all other books in the genre are written at a 5th-grade reading level, then I would be well-served to stay at that level, but I might be free to use whatever paragraphing style I might choose if various authors in the genre use completely different paragraphing styles themselves.

    Everyone’s idea of a strong voice is different. I was part of a diverse writing group in which I was the only one who didn’t hate Ursula K. Le Guin’s voice in The Dispossessed. Everyone else thought it was plodding and boring, while I found it methodical. For them, her voice is weak, but I think for you and me it is strong indeed.

    "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

    #103550
    Buddy J.
    @wordsmith

    @taylorclogston

    *laughs* I am working so hard to keep things clear… *sighs* Let’s see if I can do this. *compiles terms he’ll need to use*

    Okay! I think in general we agree, but maybe we’re looking for a different angle on it with a slightly different answer. And I’ll clarify that when I refer to the tools of language, the objective side of voice, and similar phrases I am referring to the literary devices.

    And when I say, “…while still taking into account that it’s going to be applied by another individual with their own mind.” I’m referring to the subjective application of the soul, of the person, as they use the objective literary devices (which is a massive pool of information).

    Published author, reader of many books, Student in writing, and Lumenite!

    #103553
    DeepRun
    @deeprun

     

    Author’s voice: my soul’s view and story, expressed through the mechanics of language.

    You do not have a soul. You have a body.
    You are a soul. - C.S. Lewis

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