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How much does voice matter to you?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Steerpike, Dec 13, 2018.

  1. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    This is something I've been mulling over quite a bit recently, as I've reflected on my own reading habits. Over the past few years, with a couple notable exceptions, I've migrated away from books where the author doesn't have a discernible voice. In other words, books where the 'voice' seems generic and interchangeable with any number of other books.

    My favorite books are by authors with strong voices--Gormenghast, the works of Dorothy Dunnett, Melville, and the like. Growing up, I was into the likes of Moorcock, Vance, Lovecraft, and the like, all of whom have fairly strong voices. More recent authors like P.C. Hodgell, China Mieville, Kage Baker--good voices. I must have always been this way, because as a kid one of my favorite things about Alice in Wonderland was the author's voice.

    As I write, I go back and forth on how distinctive (and apparent) a presence in the narrative I want to have as an author. Does the reading public at large prefer the author to be more invisible? Does it matter if one is writing for adults or children?
     
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  2. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

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    Oh, the invisible writer theory... one of my most hated, heh heh. I swear, people in the industry clamor for “voice” while demanding McDonalds.

    I am picky as hell these days. I can’t even say specifically what will keep me reading a book. To me it’s a combo, voice and story. Great voice alone isn’t going to get me to read a book, and I’ll never know if the story is great if the voice irritates me. The really strange part is that some people can write in a generic voice and it works, but there’s also “bad” generic voice. Some goes with the genre... legal thriller type stuff. Unfortunately, I think the educational system, pop culture, and the industry itself has done its best to dumb down readers, LOL. More like, trained their expectations down.

    One of my proudest moments was when my editor, who has been in publishing most of her adult life in one manner or another, told me she usually rewrote sentences for authors, but she wasn’t going to even to try it with the way I write.
     
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  3. Peat

    Peat Sage

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    To me, its huge. I'm not looking for the voice to be unique, but whether or not I like the voice is the first question as to whether I'm going to read a book or not. Sometimes I ignore the "No" and invariably that results in a 3 star or less rating on GR, assuming I finish at all. Voice, for me at least, is the best quick guide as to whether I'm going to share a sense of what's funny and interesting with the author. If we disagree on that, there's pretty much no way I'm making it through a 100k of their words.

    And if I really, really like the voice in a book, it basically has nigh infinite licence to do whatever it wants. The more I'm just enjoying the way the author says things, the less I'll notice other flaws.
     
  4. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Voice is something that fascinates me. I've had a bit of a draught in my reading the last few years, but I'm trying to pick it up again.
    I don't think a good voice will make me keep readin a story I don't enjoy, but on the flipside I think I'd have a hard time getting into a story with a voice I don't like - regardless of how promising the story might seem from the blurb and reviews.

    I also think that if an author has an intriguing voice, I'm likely to check out more of their stories - including stories I might not otherwise have thought would appeal to me.
     
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  5. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

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    I think I have to separate voice and writing... bad writing is a no go for me, but if the writing is good, sometimes, the voice will take several chapters to catch me. A truly unique voice can take time to get used to. It’s a bit like story... first impressions aren’t always right. But, if my inner editor is going off too often, there’s just no shot at reading the story... although I give indie and unpublished WIPs works more leash.
     
  6. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

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    For me it's a combination of plot and voice that makes the best reads for me.
     
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  7. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    For me, it matters and it doesn't at the same time. I think my favorite books tend to have a distinct voice and style to them, but I won't dismiss a book if those things aren't apparent right away. I kind of look at it like fine dinning vs fast food. Both can be enjoyed. Both are good in their own way. It all depends on what I'm in the mood for.
     
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  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I'd say that most readers don't know that they notice. They know if they "like" a book or don't like it, and that's about it. They may say they found the plot "exciting" or the characters "memorable," which in many Amazon reviews passes for insightful. Only a fraction of readers (according to a scientific survey of my own opinion) would be able to identify an authorial voice across multiple novels and know how that factor influenced their enjoyment of the book.

    This comes up more often in this sort of forum because we're mostly writers. We care about this stuff. The OP might turn the question on its head and ask to what degree authorial voice matters *to the author*. Is it necessary to know I have one? Is it like my speaking voice in that it's more or less impossible for me to change it? Or should I be like the actor who can do different voices for different roles? It's worth exploring, as an author.

    As for the readers, though, you're never going to know. And anything you think you do know, is going to be wrong for at least a portion of your readers. Don't sweat it.
     
  9. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    I love it when an author commands respect from the first page. Some of the greats are these authors to me. One modern example is Charlotte E. English who does more fae related stories. Her voice is amazing. I am hooked on her. For me, voice is the most important thing because it = the driver's seat.
     
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  10. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    To an extent, I agree.

    Voice could very well be the 'thing' a reader cannot pinpoint that they love about an author. Us on this forum will have a different perspective on this topic because we write books, yes. But author voice exists regardless of a writer's skill--it is just more honed with someone who has been writing for longer. Someone who doesn't write will not understand the concept of author voice or even know it is a thing, but it (voice) is still present in the books they read.

    All of a sudden I have no idea where I'm going with this. Anyway, sorry about the double post.
     
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  11. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

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    Eeyeah, I think there are a lot of "educated" readers out there, I've had plenty of comments from readers on voice (mostly positive). They don't always use the same term, and I doubt they all mean the exact same thing... which is the issue, voice is a highly personal thing with varying aspects being more important to an individual. The definition of is vague. Having a voice is damned near a given, knowing what it is, is another. Whether readers will consciously care is another.

    And, some readers are trained to enjoy restaurant chains (James Patterson, who seems to literally franchise), others are food snobs (the literary only crowd), and most exist somewhere in between, LOL. And personally, any unique voice I find I try to give at least a hundred pages of reading in order to "get into" its rhythm and personal quirks. Any Faulkner book, or hell, Clockwork Orange! It takes a bit to get with the flow.

    Walk into Eternity, Craven Raven, with a thousand-thousand eyes, no two agreeing.
     
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  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I do think the industry sometimes gravitates to more of the same. Or at least it feels that way. In any business, I suppose it is always a battle to get people to take a risk as opposed to going the more safe route. I, too, have seen authors who do a good job of writing without a discernible voice, mostly in thrillers, where it makes sense.

    Congrats on the comment from the editor. That's great.
     
  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Same here. If an author has a strong and engaging voice, I'm more likely to stick around when I might have put another book down.
     
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  14. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Books that do both well are certainly great finds. Throw in characterization, and you have the trifecta.
     
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  15. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I don't agree. Readers tend to be fairly discerning. Even if they don't know the name for it, I doubt they fail to notice a strong voice. It's not easy to miss. I don't know that it necessarily allows a reader to identify an author across novels, though. That would mean an author's voice is unchanging. That's not true--authors may vary their voice from work to work, depending on what they're writing and what they feel works best in each instance.
     
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  16. Peat

    Peat Sage

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    The most remarkable instance I saw of this recently was RJ Barker. In Age of Assassins, the MC Girton is a young man who's had a challenging but good life. His voice is wry and philosophical. In the sequel, Blood of Assassins, Girton is four years older and has seen a lot more miserable stuff. His voice is more angry and sullen. I think its very good writing to do that...

    ... although it did have the notable downside that I liked the second book a fair deal less because I liked the voice a fair deal less.

    I think the important thing about Voice in this trifecta is that you only really get a feel for the plot at about halfway through; characters might take a few chapters to make themselves loved; but a reader can judge the Voice within pages. Within seconds.

    To use a bad metaphor - its like you're a restaurant where the diner can decide to start ordering for a menu other than yours any moment they want. The plot is the dessert; it'll play a big part in how they remember the meal and in what mood they finish, but you've got to get them through the other courses first. The characters are the main course - the bulk of it, where failure will leave them most dissatisfied. And the voice is the starter. It may not seem that important at the end of the meal, but if you don't get it right, they're not eating from your menu.
     
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  17. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

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    Personally, I try not to judge voice quickly. Much of human taste is based on what we're used to... so, encountering something different or unique can take time to get used to, for me. That's different from bad grammar and hideous writing, that can be immediate. And maybe terrible voice can be judged instantly, heh heh. Most books I encounter are relatively "voiceless" or more accurately, just bland voiced. This goes for big pub best sellers as well as the indie-author work out there. Heck, some days I might take reading bad voice over the vanilla out there, LOL.

    Of course, anything can be judged instantly, the judgement just might be wrong.

    For instance, I will not name the book... but the writing felt ordinary, good enough, maybe... but the opening was an orc in a whorehouse. Judgment made! I'm done. LOL. It could be a good book! But the odds of it being for me felt real slim.

     
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  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yes, an author's voice can be a hook in and of itself, encouraging one to read on.
     
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  19. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I don't judge too quickly whether I think it is a "good" voice or not. I do enjoy seeing a strong voice from the start. If I like it right away, it's like a hook for me. But even if it doesn't grab me right away there's a good chance I'll read further to see how the author maintains it.
     
  20. Firefly

    Firefly Troubadour

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    To true. I feel sometimes like I have a terrible education in voice, because it's almost non-existent in most of the books I read. I sometimes think it's actually me and I just have a terrible time recognizing and understanding what voice even is, but then there's the rare author that does feel different, even if I can't quite pinpoint why.
    The whole thing stresses me out a little, because voice is one of those things people say will just happen on its own, but that doesn't seem to be the case for most of the writers I'm reading.
    Oh well. I'm not sure more examples would even help that much, since voice is supposed to be different for every single writer. But I still wish there were more out there, if only so I could get a better picture of what it even is.
     
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