Voice

Jacquelyn Lorin has a fantastic post about voice and branding. I’ve been thinking about this. She talks about branding and platform and does a brilliant job so I’d recommend just reading that.

Voice

It is something I struggle with. Unsurprisingly. I think most people have when they start writing. At least there is a lot of stuff out there you can read about finding it and I don’t really get any of it.

Oddly I have (I think) a very strong voice in my day to day life. My coworkers could hear a paragraph of my speech patterns coming from someone else and they’d know it was wrong right away. My mom can pick out my sentences on a website I had nothing to do with. Voice is something that comes pretty easy to me. But that voice isn’t appropriate for novels. It doesn’t work in writing stories. I mean it can, but it would be confusing and derivative and run oney.

This is one of those things where we say we want real things, but we don’t lace our novels with ums, ahs, because that would be boring and frustrating. We don’t have people walk away from conversations and come right back to say, what was I going to get from the kitchen again? Unless we are trying to make a point. But everyone does it. (It’s a door thing!)

We don’t really want real life in our books. It’s ugly and messy. No plot lines. Rarely complete sentences. People are stupid, all the time. They are just the worst really. But the world doesn’t punish bad people and reward good people. We want books to do that. (And movies and tv and whatever else.)

So it’s sort of the same thing with your voice, or at least my voice. I totally find words and cling to them for a while, over use them, misuse them. And then I move on to the next. And I do shit like starting every single god damn sentence with and or but. And I way over use both and, and but. And whooboy! None of my grammar checkers like that last paragraph, I’m giving them conniptions. But that’s the thing. We don’t really talk grammatically correct. People who always do are weird. Sorry, it’s true. Partial sentences everywhere.

Sorry what was I saying? I got distracted by a shiny thing.

So I can’t use my day to day voice in my writing. Even though I’ve been perfecting it for a handful of decades now. No, I have to come up with a whole new voice that is unique, and me, and grammatical soundish.

I over punctuate. I put commas in where pauses go, but that’s not right. But is that my voice? Or is that just me not being good at writing?

I rarely use “said” or “says” or any variant. When writing dialogue I usually write a sentence, end it, write dialogue, write an action thing which has a name that I can’t think of off the top of my head and I’m sort of trying to write this like I actually talk so I’m not looking it up. (And yes, for the record, stopping to google that door thing is entirely something I would and do in real life, and yes, yes it does frustrate the people around me, I’m trying to cut back but it’s so hard.)

This is a voice. But this isn’t the voice we want to see when writing. This voice is exhausting to be around.

Voice is hard.

I’m not sure any of this made sense. Because sometimes when we say shit in our day to day lives, it doesn’t really come around to a perfectly sensible thing. Sometimes the people in your life just go, “uh huh,” to shut you up and move onto the next thing that is interesting to them.

Pfff!

6 Comments

  1. Elizabeth

    I don’t completely understand voice either. Lots of people talk about it, but no one really gives concrete ideas of how to develop it.

    Not terribly helpful.

    Yet, I sorta get it when I read big name authors like Stephen King. Subject matter aside, when you read his work, you know it was written by him. I don’t see that so much in mid tier authors.

    Reply
    1. Mariah Avix

      I think part of it is that really big names can be more loose with some rules so it is easier to tell. Mid tier I think means more focus from editors which tightens the voice belt.

      But part of it is I don’t think we want voice as much as we say we do. Which is super frustrating. We want voice but heavily processed and refined and autotuned.

      Reply
    2. Mariah Avix

      Hm. That sounded more bitter than I intended…oops!

      Reply
  2. Jacquelyn Lorin

    I recently read one suggestion that if you couldn’t find your voice maybe you weren’t being honest with it. Really? I’m not sure we want complete honesty. I’ve known people to use that idea to speak their minds entirely, rather than step into society like we were taught as youngsters, with the filter firmly in place. I think there’s a little snark in all of us and at least a little bitterness here and there too. For some on the internet, they choose to let that be part of their voice, but I’ll bet they still filter it some, lest they become trolls and entirely impossible to like.

    I think the literary world, like society, has certain expectations for filters “in place,” but I agree with you about the mid tier. They ask us to have voice then filter it down too much with the rules. I like the philosophy of know the rules so you know why you break them. (Just don’t break them all the time.)

    Reply
    1. Mariah Avix

      That seems odd. I mean “honest” is a weird thing anyway. It sort of assumes that we are all always and only one thing. That we don’t change for the situation or over time. (Which goes against my favorite part of reading, character arc!) But I’m not the same person at work as I am at home but that doesn’t mean I’m not being honest about who I am.

      I totally agree about the rules and knowing them well enough to break them. But it is a long hike. And I think you have to fail occasionally so you know you fail to know when to break them. If you never cross the line how do you know where it is?

      Your post was really fantastic and got me thinking!

      Reply
      1. Jacquelyn Lorin

        Thank you, I enjoyed your post as well. You given me more food for thought.

        Reply

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