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  1. Helianth
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    Helianth Member

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    How do you develop your writer's voice?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Helianth, Mar 20, 2014.

    Writing is something I've always loved to do, but was severely sidelined once I had to deal with the rigors of grad school. I've been trying to get into again but I'm struggling with regaining my writer's voice. Before grad school, I'd say my writing voice was very influenced by the likes of Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling and Neil Gaiman. But now, if I try to write something it seems scattered in terms of style and tone. Sometimes it's whimsical, sometimes flowery, and sometimes it's more unembellished. So I thought I'd maybe reach out to the more experienced :).
    Any ideas on how I can regain and improve on my writer's voice?
    Which authors would you say most influenced yours? Is it something that comes naturally to you or do you have to work on it? Is it constant or do you change it based on what you're working on?
     
  2. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Find writing buddies or a writing group. Practice different styles and let others read your work. Eventually people will be able to tell you where you sound best and most natural.
     
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  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I definitely have more than one voice. I used to think that I had two, Formal and Informal, but now I think that it's more like five or six, depending on formality, humor, self-exposure, and other factors.

    That sounds like I'm misunderstanding the term voice ("Your voice isn't different just because you're revealing something about yourself.") but that's not really true--if I want to reveal things about myself, I do switch to a different voice, one that makes that easier. That same voice could explain algebra equations, but it would be really bored doing so. (Yes, I am anthropomorphizing my writing voices. I will continue to do so. :))

    I would say that my single biggest writing influence is Rumer Godden. I read her children's books over and over, early in life, while I was still maximally impressionable with regard to language. There are nonstandard things that she did that I have to forcibly remind myself *are* nonstandard--they just seem correct to me.

    I'd say that the adult-book-writers that influence me the most are writers that work as, or once worked as, journalists. I like clean prose that looks plain and clear but has more meaning than the words immediately convey, and journalists seem to be very good at that.

    I don't think that I actively try to develop my voice. I'm conscious of it, and sometimes I'll rewrite a piece of writing from one voice to another (a process that usually takes three or more passes), but my conscious efforts are focused on improving my writing, making it more correct and more graceful and less cluttered.

    Though having said that, I realize that when I'm trying to switch voices, or push myself from one voice to another, I hear myself talking aloud in my head, and sometimes I see myself talking to some imaginary other person in my head. So apparently, to get in contact with my voice, I imagine my actual voice; I veer, temporarily, to the spoken word, even if it's the theoretical spoken word inside my head.

    Edited to add: And I think of a different audience. One of my voices is talking to a sympathetic friend, another is talking to a dry and demanding audience that nevertheless has a bit of a sense of humor. And so on.
     
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  4. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Post something so people can see what your voice is now and make meaningful suggestions regarding any present issues and areas that might be improved.
     
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  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...why do you want to 'regain' a voice you wrote in 'back when'... you are not the same person you were then, since as we age and gain experience in life and in our craft, we all change in ways large and small... so, too, may our 'basic' writing voice, which really develops and evolves on its own, is not something we craft... by 'basic' i mean how we would write in a first person narrative as ourselves... which may or may not be the only voice we use...

    ...none... i've been reading all the books, et al. i could get my hands on for 70 years, have loved the writings of too many authors to count... and have never tried to emulate any... nor wanted to...

    ...my 'basic' voice is as natural as speaking wuld be... other writing 'voices' i may use, say when writing a period piece, or narrating as a character, also come naturally to me, as i fortunately have been blessed with a keen/accurate 'ear' for languages, accents, dialects... some writers have this ability and some have to work at it...

    ...it changes depending on what i'm writing...
     
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  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Your writing voice has to do with how you choose words and how you assemble them - so no matter what you're putting
    down on computer or paper your developing it. Be influenced but don't imitate. I love the prose of Nabokov & Angela Carter and the simpleness of Hemmingway but I don't allow any of them to dictate my style. Imitation actually stifles your voice because your so busy trying to capture other people's voices/visions that nothing of yourself is brought to the project.

    A good way to develop your voice is to take a note pad around and start jotting down things - what you see ( or rather take notice of ), how you interrupt things, describe things, how you examine your feelings - that's your voice.

    We could all notice a snail on a rock but we'll never feel the same way about it, or describe it in the same way. Our writer's voice is what separates us.

    Also, don't think you have to write in one tone. Certain books/stories can have a tone all their own - a person who writes in different genres could adopt a more streamlined style for a mystery and a more elaborate style for a fantasy.
     
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  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I hear you. It can be extremely frustrating to have to put off your dream of writing because of other responsibilities. In my case, those included finishing my education, getting married, pursuing a career to support that family, and then dealing with unforeseen issues over many years (as John Lennon wrote, life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans). The good news for the aspiring writer is that those other responsibilities are the stuff that comprises your life experience, which in turn informs your writing.

    @mammamaia, @ChickenFreak and @peachalulu all make excellent points. A writer's voice is the sum total of education and experience. It's good to be aware of one's influences (one can't help it), and you may find yourself consciously taking elements from certain writers. But you need to develop your own voice.

    You don't do that by seeking opinions of others. Critique can help you with technique and structure, but not with your voice. That must be yours and only yours.

    I consider my own influences to have been, in alphabetical order, R. F. Delderfield, Charles Dickens, E. M. Forster, Earnest Hemingway, Harper Lee, James A. Michener, Liam O'Flaherty, C. P. Snow, James Thurber, Anthony Trollope, Cirilo Villaverde and Herman Wouk. More recent writers who have made a considerable impression on me are Paulo Coelho, Elizabeth Kostova and Rachel Simon.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2014
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  8. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have more than one too, depending on what I want to write. Even though My genres are somewhat related I might want different Tones for different projects. And right now I've discovered a totally different side of my writing, but no one is less natural than the others. Right now I'd say I have three.
     
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  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    My voice, I think, is mostly influenced by the poets I admire. First among these is the California poet Robinson Jeffers. His verse is almost prose, anyway, but I love his rhythms and his attention to the sounds of his sentences. I read his lyric stuff aloud sometimes before I settle down to write.

    I also read Walt Whitman and W.B. Yeats for the same reason, but they're not quite as influential, it seems to me.

    Among prose writers, I think I'm most influenced by Rudyard Kipling (amazing narrative! It's as if he had an electrified pen!) and Joseph Conrad (I love his clarity and imagery - how he builds something mysterious before telling a story about it).

    I've mentioned Hemingway a lot in this forum, but, while I admire him, I don't see much of his style in mine. Steinbeck appears more, I think.

    And, of course, I'm influenced by James Joyce. Of all the prose writers I've encountered, he's the one who most demands to be read aloud. The attention he pays to the sounds of the syllables - both vowels and consonants - is inspiring. Joyce approached perfection in prose more closely than anybody I've read.

    All of these were influences when I started to write seriously, back in the 1980s. Right now, I think my most important influence is me. I read over my old stuff, usually aloud, and it makes me feel good about what I do, and puts me in the mood to keep doing it.
     
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  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    What a great thread, @Helianth ! Thanks for starting it. It was nice to read through it, first thing in the morning.

    For myself, I feel there are many authors whom I love to bits, but I don't sound ANYTHING like them in my writing. I love Terry Pratchett, E Annie Proulx, Garrison Keillor, Christopher Brookmyre, James Robertson ...don't sound anything like them. So voice isn't really all about authors you like.

    I feel your 'voice' is there already, when you begin, as long as you're not consciously copying somebody else.

    I feel if you tell your story as honestly as possible, without striving to be particularly clever or poetic, your voice will be clear. That doesn't mean you can't be clever or poetic, just that if you try too hard and it's not your natural way of communicating, it will show. Some people just naturally come up with poetic-sounding prose, and some people can create very clever dialogue or analogies, or whatever. On the other hand, some authors just disappear, and the story takes over.

    You hear Terry Pratchett speaking in an interview on TV, and you can hear the sound of how he writes coming through. That's his natural voice. Same with Garrison Keillor. You can hear his speaking voice when you read his prose. Again, his natural 'voice.' Same with James Robertson, who is not quirky like Pratchett or droll like Keillor. But when you hear him speak, as I've done on several occasions, you can hear his writing.

    I'd say pick a person you know and like. Somebody who will get what your story is about, and not be judgmental about how you tell it. Then write the story as if you were reading it out loud to them. Keep them in your head all the way through. Pretend they are sitting there, listening to everything you say and enjoying themselves in the process. They get excited at the exciting bits, cry at the sad bits, laugh when you're intentionally being funny.

    Of course you'll need to edit for lots of things after you've finished, but if you tell your story honestly, as if you were speaking directly to someone you know, you will have created your own voice. Painlessly.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2014
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  11. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Voice is a funny thing. It changes with the speaker and the story. It changes with he mood and intended tone. We are often unaware of it, yet it is there, often before we even start.

    It is representative of our knowledge and experience, and it it often influenced by what we read and admire most. We subconsciously take on that which we like, even for brief periods, and utilize it like our own. Right now, I'm not using my normal voice, but seeping into one I often use when trying to provide a thoughtful response. I've identified it as formal, slightly didactic, yet pensive. "Elevated" is another word I might use.Whatever the case, I frequently adopt this voice as a means to convey abstract ideas or, perhaps, to bring clarity to one that I believe was misinterpreted. In a way, this voice is used to carry the gravitas of what it being translated from the thought realm to that of words and print.

    On the other hand (and feel free to take this section as an example), I tend to write more casually when I'm in a conversational mood. The thoughts just sort of flow from my head, and I write them down. Of course, I almost always go back and revise for clarity and correctness, but I don't take any special care to find just the right word to carry my meaning. Hopefully I established a bit of levity in this section.

    As @peachalulu mentioned, voice is all about word choice and sentence construction. It's about the way you use language to bring out personality and feeling. It sets the tone, transfers the mood. I will differ with Peach a little to say mimicking other writers voices only hinders you if you do it as a regular practice. I find it can be rather helpful for helping new writers to understand how voice may change from writer to writer (i.e. it brings consciousness to voice).

    You'll find that your voice changes with time and practice and one of the best ways to find your voice is to start writing things. You could get a journal and write about your day, or you can write little scenes and small stories. If you're conscious enough, you'll notice you have a certain way that you like to describe things, a certain turn of phrase for capturing your ideas on the page. What you'll also notice is that it comes naturally to you. The only difference between how I've started this comment and the way I'm writing now is that I was more refined at the start. Even so, it was less a matter of intent than it was of natural flow.

    So my advice would be to come up with small things to write and write a bunch of them. Choose things with different tones and different purposes and just have at it. Soon enough you can go back, especially after revision, and see how they may differ and how they are alike. Where they are alike, I would say are the elements of your general "writing voice," and where they differ, are the elements of your "tonal voice."

    Hopefully I didn't ramble too much there to get my point across.

    Btw, good morning @jannert ! :p
     
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  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @Andrae Smith - Is it goodnight to you? If you're in Arizona...:)
     
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  13. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Yes, I'll be off to bed any minute ha ha!
     
  14. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I wonder, guys, what's the difference between tone and voice?

    The way I write is different depending on what I'm writing, which is obvious, of course. I'd be careful about being too concerned with having a voice, for fear of limiting yourself when you're writing different things. The way I write for descriptive passages is not the way I write my emails, and the way I write action sequences is not the same as internal monologues. If you're too concerned with writing one particular way before you've developed skills in how to approach various forms of writing, there's a danger that you'll use perfectly good devices in completely inappropriate places, if you get me.

    My advice is just to write naturally. Don't try too hard. You can always go back and edit it to death later :) If you're serious about improving, you're gonna have to edit and rewrite anyway, I think that's where we learn mostly, because that's when we really think about it and rework things, listening to our quieter voice and intuition, pinpointing exactly what we wanted the sentence to mean etc.

    I remember when I was at uni, I wanted to sound so clever that I kept getting lower marks than I should have - my tutor told me so. That the content was excellent but due to the lack of flow in my essay, she had to mark me down. I didn't understand, because I thought I was writing well!

    Here's an example from my 2nd year project:

    I'm not gonna break that down right now, it's far too long and too loaded a sentence, and since I already have my degree, it's of no consequence lol. Anyway, as you can see, forced writing in an attempt to sound good... usually doesn't :D

    You develop your voice by being confident enough to write plainly - by plainly, I don't mean your prose can't be poetic or flowery. I just mean write as you normally would, without any attempt at grandeur. Let your natural way of writing come first, then refine it through editing. And when you're not writing, read a lot and remember turn of phrases that captured you by writers you like. Analyse what makes their writing so captivating. You won't remember the specifics later, but I have no doubt it'll soak into you and it'll come back in your own writing and you won't even notice it. That'd be being influenced or imitating, depending on how far you go, and in time, you'll make it your own.
     
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  15. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Interesting question. For me the tone is something you apply on a text (I assume it's easier to distinguish in novels rather than in essays?) that conveys the feeling you want the reader to have while reading, depending on genre, theme etc, while voice is that little subtle thing that is you in any given text, something that makes the reader who doesn't know the author of it say "could she have been writing this?", something that makes the reader recognize you. I guess it could be a mix of a lot of little details, which put together and maybe regardless of genre is unique for you.
    That is my spontaneous answer, at least. I'm sure someone have a better definition.
     
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  16. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was in the same situation a few years ago, and I dealt with it by first writing some autobiographical short stories. Then philosophical essays, then a novella, and by the time I decided to write a novel, I realised I needed to go back to the basics and read a few how-to books on writing. Since then, I work on my projects, read other fiction and occasionally read a how-to as well. And then I critique other people's writing, when I have time, and I give my writing for review and consider any feedback I get.
     
  17. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    Totally agree with this. In academic essays, I always hated when writers were unnecessarily complicated. It's a pet peeve of mine. While lovely, fluent language can be great, sometimes it's better to just call a spade a spade.
     
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  18. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    As mentioned above, don't try to regain the voice you had. And I would say don't try to 'develop' a voice. Just write and write and write and eventually your voice will develop in and of itself.
     
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  19. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is no "writer's voice". All you have is YOUR voice, the voice that is you at the current moment, the sum of your unique thoughts, emotions, and experiences, your likes, dislikes, and beliefs.

    The real "trick" or skill is to modulate and adjust your voice to fit convincingly into the personality of your character. It will still be your voice, but filtered through the sex, age, nationality, and experiences of that character.

    To do anything else would be to write in a manner you think someone else expects or prefers, and that would be both false to yourself and to your readers. (Nothing to do with proper grammar, spelling, or literary style.)
     
  20. HallowMan
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    HallowMan Banned

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    Your job as a writer is much more than just selling your books, believe it or not. Your job — if you want to make a living at this, anyway — is to sell yourself.

    You are selling your unique perspective on life, your unique collection of beliefs, fears, hopes and dreams, your memories of childhood tribulation and triumphs and adult achievements and failures . . . your universe.

    Anybody can sit down and write a story or a book — that is simply a matter of applying butt to chair and typing out three or four or ten pages a day until the thing is done. But not every book is salable, not every salable book will find an audience, and not every book that finds an audience will be able to bring the readers back for more of what the writer is selling.

    Your goal is to achieve all three of those milestones:

    1. To sell your work;
    2. To reach first-time readers with it;
    3. To win these first-time readers over as repeat readers of your work.
    [link removed]
     
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  21. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Well, @Mckk , from what I can tell, tone is an element or aspect created by voice. They are integrally related in that way. Like mood, tone is a impression, an air. It has to do with the feel, the presence, of a document. That is to say, the tone is what you want your readers to experience. The voice is how you create that.

    If you refer to my earlier post, and some others, you'll find it noted that voice is related to how language is used. Language => voice -->tone. This reads as: language creates and is (the mechanism of) voice, and voice creates the effect of tone.

    For example, I had to edit a business proposal recently which was very unprofessional in tone and voice. It was unprofessional in tone, because the author's use of language was casual. Using the word "since" instead of "because" and other conversational expressions and constructions, made me imagine a conversational voice. MY imagining is my experience, so the author--in making me imagine a conversational voice--created a document with a more casual tone or impression. By changing the words and expressions to those that are appropriate in a business document, I helped to create a professional tone.

    In oral speech, you might say something and your husband might say, "I don't like your tone." In this scenario, tone is created by vocal inflection, which is something we don't have in printed word. Thus tone is created by word choice. I once had a conversation with my mom (via the internet, so I was typing) and everything I said was precise, succinct and exact. It was all more refined than it would have been in oral speech. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but because of what we were talking about at the time, my terse language came across as condescending.

    That is an example of tone being conveyed (an impression being given) due to my use of language, i.e. my voice. My voice was bare and emotionless, kind of rough, given the sensitivity of the material. I inserted not cues for levity, as I didn't think they were needed. But that voice created an unfriendly tone.

    In fiction writing, there are two considerations for "voice" that I have noticed. The first is the "writing voice" that so many strive to attain. That is the general use of language that people associate with "sounding" like a professional fiction writer. Really this doesn't exist as a general thing. Writer's write in their own voices, using their own preferred elements of language and style. The difference is that it becomes refined through editing, which cuts everything that is redundant, unnecessary, or generally out of place. The second consideration is the adopted voice of the narrator/speaker at any given moment. This is related to the the events of the story, which may call for a more anxious voice, as in action or a serene voice, as in a reflective scene.

    This leads me into a consideration of tone in fiction, which is also created through imagery/description. For instance, in Therese Raquin, Zola creates a dark, dingy, uninviting tone for the alley-like street that he describes on the first page. He accomplishes this by using language to create images, repeating words like dark, worn, yellowish, acrid, damp, black, filth, dirty, drag, miserably, nasty, foggy, darkness, sticky, unclean, abominable, gloom, low, dumpy , dust, greenish, horrible brown, and many, many more. Words like this evoke dark, unpleasant imagery, which creates a tone for the setting.

    Tone is interesting because it applies to many different things. It applies to a whole novel as an impression that carries throughout. It also applies to individual scenes. It get's interesting is when the tone has nothing to do with the writing itself, but the impression the author wants you to have about of something/someone "concrete" within the story--as shown above.

    To summarize, voice deals with language, while tone deals with impression. They are generally interrelated because one's voice (i.e. use of language) will often create the tone of ones writing.
     
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  22. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Mckk : The way I see it, say, my Mum, I can recognise her voice regardless of whether she is happy, upset, sad, angry etc. Same in writing. The same writer can write a horror, a romance, a detective story, if they have an unique voice, you'll recognise all those writings as their own, but the tone will be different. The writer's tone also changes throughout a single book, with different characters, their moods and situations they face. But the voice is always unique to them and recognisable by the readers.
     
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  23. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Thanks, Jazz, for a simpler, more relevant response. I can't help but think it will be the more useful consideration of tone and voice ha ha.
     

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