Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No Choice in Voice

Source (copyright Square Enix)

Ah, voice.  The little Pandora’s box of the writing world.  Few people actually completely understands the concept, but everyone agrees that it is important (well, I’m sure not everybody, but most).

The first taste I had of voice was that it was simply the way you wrote.  I.e. the way you project yourself.  You don’t speak like everyone else, so you probably don’t write like anyone else either.  That’s why people tell you that voice develops by itself as you write.  Because as you go on, you will eventually stop trying to say something in a certain way and just say something.  That is your voice.

So I always had a little bit of trouble with this, because my native tongue is Afrikaans and not English (I have a similar problem with that piece of advice for better dialogue where you listen to how other people speak; Most people I am able to overhear is talking a language other than English).  My thoughts and speech all comes out in Afrikaans, normally, so how could I naturally project my voice in English?

I recently read about voice in Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel.  Here is what he said:

“(Voice is) not only a unique way of putting words together, but a unique sensibility, a distinctive way of looking at the world, an outlook that enriches an author’s oeuvre(*).”

So I might be saved yet.  The way you look at things and experience them is your voice.  Your outlook, your expectations.  All of these are you and you are your voice.

Some time back, I wrote about different characters with different voices.  When you write (from a point of view that includes the character, i.e. not distant 3rd person), the character whose POV you’re in will be a lens through which you put your voice.  Therefore, although every character is different and will see the world different, your own views will invariably dribble into the narrative so that your voice will still ring clear.

Your voice is you.  Your character has a voice of his own.  The combination of the two is the mask that you put on when you face the world in order to tell your story.

* I had no clue what this word meant, so in case you didn’t either, here is a definition.

Noun:          1. The works of a painter, composer, or author regarded collectively: "the complete oeuvre of Mozart".
2. A work of art, music, or literature.

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