Saturday, January 23, 2010

Voice

After months away I am back on the blog chain. This time around the topic comes from Sarah who asks:

How did you discover your particular voice as a writer?

Good question, right? But a hard one too. Voice is one of those writing things that is particularly elusive and just plain difficult to pin down. Unlike dialogue, description, or characterization it's not an element that you can separate out and set it in a neat little box by itself so that you can poke at and study it. This is because voice runs through all of these things, holding them all together and (hopefully) setting your writing apart from everyone else's.

So, how did I find my voice? I don't really know, it's just kind of there when I sit down to write. For me, it's kind of a mixture of both my personality and my experiences, diluted a bit by all the words of other authors that I've read and then blended to a smooth consistency so that it can be spread onto the page. Kind of like Grey Poupon, but less French.

Maybe by breaking down some of the elements that make up my voice I can have a better sense of where they came from.

Humor.

At the top of that list is my sarcastic, little bit left of center, and sometimes dark sense of humor.

A large part of this can be traced directly to my mother. When my older sister and I were little kids having a bath, she told us that she had to run downstairs for some carrots to put in with us, and then she would cook us up for a nice stew. I was two. I thought she was serious, and I started crying. My mom says she felt bad as soon as the tears started to flow, but I have my doubts, especially since I have heard this story many times and every time she thinks it is hilarious.

Dialogue.

I love writing dialogue and it is always the part of writing that comes the easiest to me. This can be traced to riding the bus. Yes, the bus. From kindergarten to eighth grade I went to a Catholic school, but we rode on the same buses as the public school kids. This meant that in the afternoon the buses would pick us up first, and then go to the public school to pick them up. This also meant a lot of time on the bus.

Lots of staring out the window at scenery going by.

Lots of not talking to kids who I didn't know and was too shy to be friendly with.

Lots of making up imaginary conversations in my head where I always had the most awesome thing ever to say, and everyone was so impressed and loved me and wanted to be my best friend.

Funny. Imaginary conversations in my head then = loserdom. Similar imaginary conversations now = "Hey, I'm a writer!"

Sentence Structure.

I tend to write long sentences. Maybe you've noticed. It's not something I do intentionally - in fact, I intentionally try to do the opposite because the feedback I most often get from crits is that sentences the length of a paragraph can be confusing, annoying, and tiring. As much as I try to beat back the long sentences, sometimes I just can't. When something feels like one thought I just can't bring myself to chop it up, orphaning it's lesser parts and forcing them to hold their own in a completely separate sentence of their own. And as much as these endless sentences might be seen as a flaw, they are also - for better or worse - part of my voice.

So, what about your voice? Where did you find it? And do you feel like it is something you consciously developed or that originated more organically?

For more on this chain check out Rebecca before me and then Amanda who will be up next.

13 comments:

  1. Welcome back to the blog chain! I agree with you that it's hard to pin down where your voice comes from. (I also like long sentences too, with semicolons even. ;) I don't think I could ever tell my toddler I was going to cook him into stew in his bath--I'd be afraid of leaving him filthy and scarred for life!

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  2. Welcome back Kate! I'm a loooong sentence lover too! I just can't help it. My daughter was reading something for me one day and started laughing. When I asked her why, she said, "That whole freaking paragraph was ONE sentence!" In my defense, it wasn't a very long paragraph ;)

    I agree that our experiences help to craft our voices as writers. After all, everything we write is a little piece of who we are.

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  3. Welcome back Kate - missed ya! As for your post - great job. I am still stewing has to how I am going to answer this..as my take is typically a little different than everyone elses

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  4. Welcome back, Kate. I, too, play out conversations in my head. Supposedly they make a medication for it, but hey, why ruin the fun, right? :)

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  5. Grey Poupon, huh? :)

    Great post, Kate. Voice is something I think about more as I blog, than as I write. (Maybe that's because I tend write PBs in rhyme and meter somehow seems takes precedence over voice.)

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  6. Welcome back! I'm always having imaginary convos in my head, usually while driving to or from my daughter's preschool. It's never boring in my car.

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  7. Welcome back. This is a really interesting breakdown of where your voice comes from and what you include in it. It's really fun to see how everyone has answered this question, because the perspective is so different for each of us.

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  8. Great post, Kate! I think your humor and dialog are spot on. I love how you said it's a mixture of your personality and life. That's so true in writing.

    And I think voice can be found and learned through exercises, so it's always good to just sit and stare out the window for a while.

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  9. This is great.

    I believe voice should be something original. Though it may trigger a reader to think of someone else they've read.

    I have several styles-voices. With YA I write in 1st person and the dialogue and content are different from my voice when I write and adult novel in 3rd person.

    Then there are genre changes. My historical voice is nothing to compare to contemporary.

    Yet, while the voice may change there is always that little whisper in the way the sentences flow and undertone of the story that makes each my own.

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  10. My last post deleted so if I double up, don't flog me! LOL. I'm a humor/dialogue girl too, can't help it. Doesn't matter how much I try to be serious...funny makes its way in.

    Found you from Amanda and I think I must follow! Glad to find you!

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  11. Ha! So true about the imaginary conversations ;). Love it!

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  12. Welcome back to the blog chain! Great post on voice, and I hear you about those long sentences. I'm getting better at chopping them up. Maybe I'll add some carrots and make a stew. ;)

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  13. I just read your story, I KNOW YOU BY HEART in WW. It was really, really sweet. I wished I had written it.

    Looking forward to reading more of your work.

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