Tuesday, July 28, 2015

More on voice... and being brave

I keep rolling the concept of 'voice' over in my mind. Trying to find a way of simplifying it's definition, and come up with techniques you can use to find your own and apply it successfully to your writing. Writer pal, Sue Copsey, and I chatted at length about the importance and qualities of voice yesterday, trying to nut out what it is and how to produce it.

The short answer is, there is no short answer. The long answer is, I know it when I see it, and I can tell when it's missing. You can have technically great writing but the story won't work without voice. I guess then my definition is, voice is the beating heart that brings a story to life. And in different stories it manifests in different ways.

Sometimes voice is provided predominantly by the first person narrative of the central protagonist - such as Georgia Nicolson in Louise Rennison's Confession series that began with Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging.

Sometimes it's structure, setting, or the domination of dialogue or dialect. Sometimes the genre of the material drives the voice, at other times it's the central underlying theme. If you think of the Harry Potter series, the voice is clearly more than just the character of Harry. The magic of the fantasy setting,  the myriad of imaginative invented elements, the colour and energy and complexity of the plot are all involved too. Some critics would probably argue it's the frequency of adverbs. In The Hunger Games, the character of Katniss provides a significant proportion of the novel's voice but the atmosphere of the physical setting, the dramatic and urgent sequence of events and the complex political themes also contribute. With some writers it's the ability to surprise, whether with the plot, or the word play, or both. Sometimes it's the poetic nature of their writing style. Or its elegance or spareness.

And how do you put voice in to your writing? Specific methods are elusive but here are some things worth contemplating as you search for your own writing voice.

An author's style choices, their tics when they write, their own linguistic preferences, all shape their voice. And most of all their own personality influences the way they write, the topics they choose to explore, the presence or absence of humour, the weight of the themes, or it just permeates the writing in a more general sense. Engaging 'voice' in your writing demands that you put something of yourself in to your writing. It requires authorial bravery - they don't talk about baring your soul for nothing. Fear of exposure results in a weak or absent voice. You have to put yourself out there.

And for all that I understand about how to compose sentences, and what I know about the fundamentals of plot and how to structure one, the search for voice requires that I push myself beyond these basics of writing. It demands that I 'let go', that I experiment and play with ideas, with metaphor and simile, with characterisation and tone, motif's and imagery, with dialogue and action. And I'm willing to do it, willing to try new and different things and share pieces of myself in my writing, because it's worth it if I find my 'voice'.

1 comment:

Jane Bloomfield said...

Great Post Melinda! Oftentimes my VOICE is a neverending sentence...