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"Voice" is about the author's style of presenting his/her story.

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ronald T., Dec 18, 2015.

  1. Ronald T.

    Ronald T. Troubadour

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    I've noticed that many people on the various forums make the mistake of thinking that "voice" deals with how individual characters speak. I believe that "Authorial Voice" has nothing to do with an issue as small as how each character talks.

    Some people say that "Voice" means they should be able to determine who is speaking without name tags. And an author who can do that is gifted, indeed. But that's not a difficult thing to do if one character is from Maine, one is from Alabama, one is from North Dakota, and another is a Valley Girl from southern California. Each of these people will speak with varying regional dialects, different accents, and with particular word selection and sentence-structures. All the writer has to do is "know the dialect". But how is that achieved if the all the characters are from the same place, and have lived there their entire life? This becomes problematic without name tags. In this case, individual distinctions can only be determined by what is being said. But then, that's an issue of "character', not "voice".

    When agents and publishers talk about "Voice', I think they are referring to an "author's voice", not about how individual characters speak.

    "Voice" refers to the distinctive way a particular author presents the story. And yes! It can include how certain characters speak. But it's a much larger issue that incorporates all aspects of what writers put into their stories. Voice refers to the idiosyncratic way an author handles their individual choice of words, their way of presenting dialog, narrative, scene, and every other element that makes a good story.

    At least, that's my individual perspective on the issue of "Voice".

    As always, I could be wrong...I was, once.

    So, what do all of you think the agents are referring to when they say that a distinctive "voice" is an important reason they choose an author?

    My best to you all,

    --Ron--AKA...The hermit in the woods.
     
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  2. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    I think it's a bit of both. Distinguishing between characters should be easy even if they're from the same place or are the same age. People will have different interests, worldviews, things that will influence what sort of metaphors they use or just their everyday vocabulary. And of course an adult will speak differently than a teenager, and a teen differently from a child.
     
  3. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I agree with you, Ronald.

    It's the words we use. It's the way we invoke emotion through depictions of character and scene. It's the items we choose to describe, and how much description we use. It's the way we punctuate for cadence. And, it's so much more.

    In my opinion, voice is the sum of all choices we make as a writer, both conscious & unconscious, performed consistently & recognizably.

    Getting to a point where all this comes as second nature, well, that takes a long while to develop.

    The other "voice", I'd refer to strictly as "character voice".
     
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  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I'd like to respectfully disagree with you, but I can't. I think you're pretty spot on.
     
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  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    The thing is, in a deep 3rd person POV, there might not be much of a difference between the author's voice and the character's voice. The character is noticing and thinking in the prose, and a different character in the same story by the same author would very well be noticing different things and read with a very different voice behind the prose.

    Sure, you could talk about the author's voice. But you can also still talk about the character's voice. Have you heard the phrase narrative voice? There's that too.

    Sometimes things get murky, as with most things.
     
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  6. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    There might be no difference for that book, but if you compared two different books by the same author there would be a difference. So if you say you like the author's voice you're talking about, theoretically, how the author would choose to tell any story even though it would differ by story.
     
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  7. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I agree with both, Ronald and Devor.

    First, it's true that editors use "voice" to refer to the authorial voice. This is important to know, so writers will know what editors talk about when they refer to voice. Editors often accept manuscripts because they like the authorial voice; they like finding a good voice that is distinctive.

    Problematic for a discussion of how to improve one's writing is the fact that voice, in this meaning of the word, can't exactly be taught, or not easily taught. Each author somehow finds it on her own—and even that process of discovery is typically not an analytical process. There are ways to modify one's authorial voice; but finding "your" voice...well that's something of a personal journey.

    Then, as Devor points out, there are "character voices" or POV voices. I don't think it's inappropriate to talk about these voices, especially because this is where reader/peer/teacher input can have an effect in the development process. Something can be done about this.
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2015
  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Just to expand on my previous post,

    When people say this about the character's voice, they typically mean that with one sentence, without a name, based only on the details that the character notices around them, you can tell which character the POV is from. Maybe that's what you mean, but you make it sound like it's about dialogue and accents. It's not. It's about the character's voice influencing the prose.
     
  9. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I agree Ronald. Voice is tricky, but I think of it like the personality behind the writing. If I were to sit in a pub with Hemmingway, Martin and Atwood and swap fishing stories, they would all have a different way of telling the story. You can pick up each of their books and see how wildly different their voices are. This is very hard to develop.., but what I have found even harder is having confidence in my voice.

    When Donald Maas speaks about author voice he states that a good author voice demands your attention in some way. You know when you are at a party and there is some one there who is just a great story teller? They can tell you all about their truck accident and it is hilarious and engaging and you want to drink beers with that person all night? Then you end up trapped with someone's old aunt who tries to tell you about her truck crash, but she is dry and boring and waffles around the details and keeps going on and on about her sore back? Author voice is like that. Engaging, demanding your attention. Standing tall and saying "I have a story to tell."

    He says "it isn't words alone that do that, I find, but rather the outlook, opinions, details, delivery, and original perspectives that an author brings to his tale." (Fire in fiction, pg 130).
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2015
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  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Even in screenwriting dialogue, where you might try harder to differentiate how one character speaks from another, you don't go overboard. That's the actor's job. Much like you don't want camera directions, that is the director's job.

    When folks in publishing refer to voice, its almost exclusively the author they are talking about, not character dialogue.
     
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  11. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Writers of novels and short stories don't have actors standing by. Or is that, readers don't have actors standing by?

    While it's true that people in publishing mean the author's voice when talking about voice, a lot of writers do think and write in terms of character voices.

    George R. R. Martin, when asked how he toggles between characters, whether he goes back and forth as he's writing or writes all of one character's parts before moving on to another character's parts, said this (my emphasis added):


    It’s a combination of both. I don’t write the chapters in the order in which you read them. I tend to write one character at a time. But I don’t write the entirety of one character at a time. I don’t write all the Tyrion chapters for the entire book at once. I’ll write three or four Tyrion chapters and I’ll be so far ahead chronologically with him, that I’ll stop so I can catch up and write some of the other characters and get them into the same rough time. That’s sort of necessary because if you get too far ahead then you go back and write the other characters and they don’t coordinate as well as you want. There are contradictions or glitches that sneak in. So sometimes I’m just writing, I’m writing Jon Snow and for some reason or another I get stuck on Jon Snow and so I put him aside and write a Daenerys chapter or whatever before I switch to another. I get into a groove and I get that character’s voice in my head. Whenever I switch from one character to another there’s always a few days where I really struggle because I’m changing voices and I’m changing ways of looking at the world. I’m not just flicking a switch, it’s harder process than that.

    Game of Thrones’ Author George R.R. Martin Spills the Secrets of ‘A Dance with Dragons’

    Brandon Sanderson has also talked about trying to keep all the character voices straight when he was doing Wheel of Time.

    I don't think that dialogue, per se, is the only place where character voice shows up. I say "per se" because, in a very intimate 3rd person approach, a lot of non-dialogue can convey character thoughts and feelings.
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2015
  12. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    Wouldn't character voices fit along with personal perspectives and points of view?
     
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  13. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    But the whole point is that "character voice" and "author voice" are two distinct things. Both of them are important, but most of the time when people just talk about "Voice" as a thing they look for in fiction they mean "author voice".
     
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  14. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I absolutely agree that they refer to two separate things. How they crossover, particularly the way author voice influences character voice, is a fascinating consideration.

    I also think your point about the unmodified "voice" is very good to keep in mind.

    My concern has largely been directed at the opening paragraph of the OP:

    The second sentence, I think, is patently false. The first sentence not only confuses the issue by narrowing in on dialogue–character voice is not an issue of dialogue only–but is a broad shot at anyone who considers the idea of character voice. It's far too dismissive–and why? In my original comment to this thread, I suggested that, while I agreed with Ronald about the professional use of "voice," a community, peer-to-peer effort employing that use is problematic because authorial voice is largely an individual pursuit. So, what is gained by trying to limit all discussion of voice to author voice?

    Incidentally, I do think that something can be learned by considering author voice. Finding out how our own author voices come across to others, then narrowing down on specific habits of writing, can be helpful. I'm just not sure that shoehorning the concept of voice into that one narrow band is the way to go.
     
  15. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I find this quote really interesting, just because I have been thinking about it. There are some members on this forum that have a very distinct voice. You can tell who is 'speaking' just based on the way the post reads. You can tell a Caged Maiden post because it is very long and chatty and sort of has a casual conversational tone. You can tell a Nimue post because it is usually insightful and has a sort of wise etherial tone to it. You can tell a Skip.Knox post because it is short, concise, and usually funny, you could tell a Brian Foster post because it had an edge to it that was distinctly Foster.

    I find this really interesting. THAT to me is author voice. Some people have a very distinct voice when they write. For others it takes a while to find that distinct voice. Trying to apply that voice to writing is why we get so many variations of style, from Hemmingway's short, unadorned sentences, or George RR Martin's long, heavily descriptive prose, to Rothfuss' poetic prose, to Rowling's silly casual tone.

    yes, I think that character voice is tied into that a bit… but I don't think that Stephen King could write like George RR Martin, and vice versa.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2015
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  16. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    @Helio: The thing brushing against my mind, not particularly well-formed yet, is the danger on the other side of considering author voice.

    You know, if someone came along and said "Caged Maiden, your prose is always long and chatty, and I think it's not working for you much of the time."

    Or narrow it down to other author writing habits. "You use too many long sentences." & "You use too many prepositional phrases." & "Your sentences are always so short and sharp!"

    —because, author voice is an amalgam of all that or what arises from all the different possible uses of language. So I wonder if community input can so easily slide into...not finding ways to help improve an author's habitual, favorite approaches, but in essence silencing an author or suggesting an author needs to find a voice that is not that author's.
     
  17. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Yeah, I wonder the same thing, and I have seen it done to a small extent here. I, myself, have been slightly afraid of posting (and have even been a bit afraid of writing) for the past little while because of this. I'm afraid of being critted for having too much 'telling' or too much 'exposition'… for example. This is why, in my previous post, I mentioned that for me it isn't finding my author voice that is hard, but having confidence in it.

    Just for example, here are three paragraphs taken from a variety of fantasy writers:

    Midday came and went. Maester Luwin sent Poxy Tym down to the kitchens, and they dined in the solar on cheese, capons, and brown oat bread. While tearing apart a bird with fat fingers, Lord Wyman made polite inquiry after Lady Hornwood, who was a cousin of his. "She was born at Manderly, you know. Perhaps, when her grief has run its course, she would nike to be a Manderly again again, eh>" He took a bite from a wing, and smiled broadly….. George RR Martin A Clash of Kings

    Richard retrieved the water and then helped Adie lower herself to sit cross-legged at the heads of Zedd and Chase. She pulled Kahlan down next to her. She asked Richard to bring a bone implement from the shelf. Part of it looked very much like a human thighbone. The entire object had a dark brown patina, and looked to be ancient. Down the shaft of the bone were carved Symbols Richard didn't recognize. - Terry Goodkind, Wizard's First Rule

    The fire cracked and spat. The women flirted. Someone even knocked over a chair. For the first time in a long while there was no silence in the Waystone Inn. Or, if there was, it was too faint to be noticed, or too well hidden. - Patrick Rothfuss The Name of the Wind

    Snowman wakes before dawn. He lies, unmoving, listening to the tide coming in, wave after wave sloshing over the various barricades, wish-wash, wish-wash, the rhythm of a heartbeat. He would so like to believe he is still asleep. - Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake

    The point I'm trying to make is that each has their own distinct 'voice'. It doesn't matter how the POV of the story changes, the author voice/style is distinct. Finding your distinct voice can be hard… and the thing is that there may always be someone who doesn't like your voice.

    There are certain members of the forum that I am immediately drawn to because of their voice (FifthView being one of them, Russ, KennyC, Nimue, Legendary Sidekick, among many others that would just be too much to name). I like what they have to say and how they say it… but it may be different for someone else. Someone might say "Helio has interesting posts." While another member might purposely avoid my posts because they find them annoying. I LOVE reading Margaret Atwood because I like her voice, but others don't like her 'style' and so don't read her stuff.

    It is very dangerous to try to limit each other's voices…. We have to be very careful about that.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2015
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  18. Ronald T.

    Ronald T. Troubadour

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    I thank you all for your various opinions.

    But it seems some folks missed the point of this thread. Which was that when agents and publishers talk about "Voice, they are referring to "authorial voice".

    Mythopoet is absolutely right: "character voice' and 'authorial voice' are two distinct things. Both are important to achieving an effective story. But "character voice' is only one element under the umbrella of a much larger issue. "Character voice", sometimes referred to as "POV voice", is nothing more than making a distinction in dialog and inner thoughts between one character and another. That is what GRR Martin was talking about. Nothing in his quote referred to the larger issue of "authorial voice". Even the introduction to Martin's quote makes it clear he is talking about "how he toggles between characters'. But that is a completely different subject than "authorial voice".

    As far as my statement that "'authorial voice' has nothing to do with an issue as small as how each character talks", I agree that if taken literally, I was wrong. My intention was to point out that they are not the same thing. Clearly, I did a poor job of that. Perhaps, I should've made it more obvious that "authorial style" would be a much better definition of "authorial voice" than does "character voice", which in truth, does fall under the larger issue I intended to deal with.

    I apologize to anyone who took offense at my poor word choice. How a character speaks and thinks is definitely important to an entertaining story, just as are all other elements that work together in creating what a reader might consider good story-telling. My point was that how those elements are presented, are referred to by most agents and publishers as "authorial voice".

    If you disagree with that, then this is simply an example of people with differing opinions. I meant no offense in my original thread. And the great part is...as writers, we can always do more in-depth research to learn the truth of any issue.

    As always, my best to all of you,

    --The hermit in the woods--
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2015
  19. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    (emphasis mine)

    This is the crux and why differentiating character voice is just one element within the larger matter of author voice. Martin is talking about how he personally develops his characters' voices. Another author would (and should) do it differently. All authors should have a unique approach to how they develop and write their characters' voices. Because all authors should approach every aspect of storytelling from their own unique perspective. And that is what Voice is. The unique way that any particular author approaches their storytelling.

    Now, you might say, but authors can change how they do things every single time they sit down to write. And yes, they certainly can. But I think that the emphasis that is placed on author voice and searching for authors with interesting and/or unique voices shows that readers don't really want them to approach every writing project in a wildly different manner. Readers really want to be able to discover authors who have a unique but relatively consistent approach to all their stories. That way whenever they see that author's name on the cover of a book, even when the author writes in different genres or approaches the same genre from different angles, they'll know that the author can deliver a story experience they will enjoy. Readers want to find author voices they can trust. That is what Voice is all about.
     
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  20. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I think that we should make a distinction between how each author approaches developing a character voice pre-writing and what constitutes an author voice.

    An author voice is more in the text and structure of the writing and story—the product on the page—and may be informed by his own preexisting thoughts, beliefs, worldviews, and so forth. But what comes before the writing is not the voice. The voice is what we, the readers, experience when we read the text; it emerges from the text.

    And so when Martin said this,

    I get into a groove and I get that character’s voice in my head. Whenever I switch from one character to another there’s always a few days where I really struggle because I’m changing voices and I’m changing ways of looking at the world. I’m not just flicking a switch, it’s harder process than that.

    we shouldn't assume that says anything in particular about his actual author voice. This, the above, is not author voice; moreover, what becomes of this—the authorial voice that appears on page—can take many forms.

    By saying it can take many forms, I mean this: A thousand authors can "get into a groove" and be "changing voices" and "changing ways of looking at the world" when writing characters but still write those characters (and the rest of their books/stories) with their own particular author voice.

    So I don't see how saying, for instance, this, can be helpful:

    Why should other authors do it differently? Getting into a groove vis-a-vis a character—i.e., seeing the settings, events, other characters through one POV character's "eyes"—is not something particular to Martin.

    Edit: Just to be clear, I think that most of us commenting in this thread acknowledge a) the existence, importance, and even the definition of "author voice," and b) the fact that those in the business of publishing use the unmodified "voice" and mean "author voice." And this includes me.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2015
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