The intention of providing short posts—snippets of advice—has gone [as an acquaintance often says] kablooey. <LOL> It seems when it comes to editing, there’s much to share. As such, I’m thinking to be true to the goal, maybe I’ll simply provide more posts on certain topics—like voice. Hmm. Let’s just go with the flow, and see where the current takes us.
The last post touched upon the narrator’s voice. What about yours—the writer’s voice?
It’s often said we should write as we speak, but that’s not always doable or practical, given the scenario. Sometimes the situation, or the narrator and character(s) have particular personalities and speech or vocal quirks that require a shift in written speech and expression. This is good. You don’t want a flat voice throughout your book; you want it to sound real. Just listen to those around you: no one speaks the same. We all have our own [noticeable] cadence, expressions and phrases.
If you follow certain authors regularly, you’ve likely noticed that they often use the same specific words and phrases, idioms, sentence structure and lexicon, and rhythm. I have a certain diction/delivery style and so do—or will—you.
Here’s an example from Chapter One of Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich:
Ginny Scoot was standing on a third-floor ledge, threatening to jump, and it was more or less my fault. My name is Stephanie Plum and I work as a bounty hunter for my bail bondsman cousin Vinnie.
Ginny had failed to show for a court appearance and it was my job to find her and return her to the authorities. If I don’t succeed my cousin is out his bond money, and I don’t get paid. On the other hand, there’s Ginny, who would prefer not to go back to jail.
My colleague Lula and I were on the sidewalk, looking up at Ginny, along with a bunch of other people who were taking video with their smartphones.
If you’ve ever read Janet’s [funny and enjoyable] Stephanie Plum books, you’ll recognize her distinct style. Bounty-hunter Stephanie is relatively laid-back and tells it like it is. She doesn’t have a university education, which shows in her voice and attitude/outlook. The job leans toward dangerous, given most of the folks she has to find are unwilling to be put back in the pokey. That sense of danger is communicated when she imparts her (and Lula’s) antics and you perceive her emotions/feelings: resolve, trepidation, uncertainty, annoyance, worry.
How about before and after examples from another writer (yours truly)?
Before: “She wouldn’t say what it was?” Sach’s voice was sounding slurred. Small wonder; he was about to down what had to be his fourth shot. That, with the four beers he’d recently tossed back, should hit him much like the soccer-ball that caught him on the forehead early last November.
What have we learned about Sach? He likes to bend his elbow from the sounds of things. Because he was hit with a soccer ball, we could assume he enjoys sports, or at least soccer, but whether as a spectator or player is unknown (at least in this example).
After: “No shi-it? She wouldn’t sa-ay what it was, huh?” Sach’s baritone voice sounded slurred. Small wonder; he was about to down his fourth shot after having tossed back four beers. Those would fell him like that soccer-ball that smashed into his forehead at Busch Stadium last fall.
Now what have we learned? Again, he likes to bend his elbow from the sounds of things. He has a baritone voice and he’s not opposed to using vulgar slang. Watching soccer is a favored pastime. Anything else? Yes—he likely hails from Missouri, given that’s where Busch Stadium is located.
Diction (the selection and use of words in writing/speech) can paint an extensive, colorful picture.
What makes up your writer’s voice? Your outlook, tone/feeling, and personality. Outlook: what you believe and stand for. Tone/feeling: how you speak, the sort of feeling and emotion [attitude] you convey. Personality: who you are, your personal likes and dislikes, and behavior.
These come naturally, given who you are, but they can be developed or polished to produce a specific or new writer’s voice.
It’s tempting to talk about using multiple voices in a given project, but for this post at least, let’s stick to your voice on the whole. Here’s an example of my writer’s voice 20-some years ago from an old manuscript, “Sardines & Cheese”. My voice has remained rather similar (though nowadays I steer clear of attempting to sound cleverer than I am).
Allow me to officially introduce myself. Kentucky Justice Smith, at your service, as my dear deceased brother Shane would have added.
The name Kentucky came about not because I was born in the state, as I’m inclined to tell people, but because I was born on the day of the great derby, a day my departed father had placed (and lost) a big bet. Ian James Smith had been a copper on the Montréal force, a hard-edged one, but a fairly efficacious one when he wasn’t being questioned for questionable tactics or behavior. He’d also been a gambler, as you may have surmised, and a drinker, one who ironically succumbed to primary liver cancer.
Me, I’m a private investigator and a part-time bartender. I was an aspiring mystery writer, “was” because I’ve been in writer’s block mode for about nine months now, but then to be fair to myself, things like homicides, world-wide travels, and a bit of bedlam have consumed many cycles of the moon’s phase. More on all that later.
The intention was to have my narrator, Kentucky, sound easy-going yet “clever” and witty. Reviewing it now, I’m not sure that that was accomplished. There’s a hint of patronization perhaps.
The intention re my writer’s voice was . . . LOL . . . the same. To sound easy-going yet clever and witty. It’s not patronizing, but possibly endeavoring to be something it’s not, such as cunning or maybe even glib.
Learning and developing are par for the course in anything we attempt and do. As writers and bloggers we grow and mature . . . we improve with time, like a good wine. Writing regularly will assist with that, so will reading. And don’t just “read”, but notice (scrutinize) how the author has presented his/her voice through narrator, character(s), and/or actions.
And when you’re writing, review the voice(s) in your work for uniformity. Are outlook, tone/feeling, and personality consistent? Is there too much repetition for naught? Does it read naturally—like a smoothly asphalted street, and not a gravel-lined rural road? If it doesn’t, don’t fret. It will come, like anything, when you apply yourself.
. . . On that note, although irrelevant, here’s a little sing-along to start the day off on a happy-talk note.