Monday, 12 August 2013

Thoughts on Voice

When an agent or an editor reviews a submission, one of the first things they look for is voice. It is one of the elements that hooks a reader on page one.

Voice conveys mood. Is your voice light and breezy or dark and brooding? Is it formal or conversational? Does it absorb the reader, or distance them through tediousness?

It takes some practice to develop a workable writing style. A good place to start developing an addictive writing style is to read books whose writing style you admire. Take some time to analyse the writing style. What sentence structure does the author use? What kind of vocabulary? How’s the pace and rhythm? A strong writing style will provide a good platform for an author’s voice.

How does the writing make you feel? This is the important bit.

When you analyse someone else’s style and voice, make note of how it feels. Is it formal and dry? Brief? Witty? Poetic? What’s the sentence structure like?

If you wish, you could attempt to write something in someone else’s style. When you are done, put this piece away, and revisit it much later. Weeks, months, years, maybe. Go over it, and ask yourself, what if *you* were writing this piece (and not Hemmingway), what would you do different? What would you change?

Find something you wrote ten years ago. Have a look at how you used language. Does that earlier work make you cringe? Why? Figure out what it is you don’t like about it. Also recognise what you did right. You need to do more of that.

Another point to consider: voice isn’t just what you’ve put on the page. It can also be what you didn’t put on the page. Picking on Hemmingway again, his style was quite terse. But it was effective.

There really is not right or wrong when it comes to voice. But there is good and bad (and a muddled middle subject to personal taste). A good voice uses language in a very effective manner, evoking setting and mood without weighing down the text. Balancing this out is a matter of practice and relaxing. No matter how much you want to, you can’t force it. In fact, if you try to force it, it’ll lock up and you’ll sound stiff. Take it easy and write without worrying about how it’ll end up. Freewrite stuff without the goal of doing anything with it other than write it. Chances are your voice will come out more in this work.

I recently had some issues with my voice. I couldn’t figure out why stuff I wrote sounded so… blah. Eventually, I figured out my sentence structures were too formal, and too long. I was using a lot of “which” and “that” and “then”. I was trying to connect up causality, when I really needed to let facts speak for themselves. I needed to trust my readers.

No doubt there are a few other elements I haven’t discovered yet. Those’ll reveal themselves with time.

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