1. drifter265
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    drifter265 Banned

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    Regarding a writer's "voice"

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by drifter265, May 24, 2015.

    Isn't it just based on the limit of our vocabulary and the words we're most comfortable using in our speech? Is it even this "personal thing" that we all think it is? Why do we have to "find our voice?" Shouldn't we already be writing in it? What's there to find?

    And how do we know if we've found it?
     
  2. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    I think it's more, like personality, age, temperment, etc. Humour writing uses voice extensively.
     
  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I know that 'finding your voice' is a pretty vague term. But I think it means writing in a way that becomes identifiably 'you.' You know people who sing that way. You hear John Lennon's voice and you know instantly that it's him, even if you haven't heard the song before. Some singers have this kind of quality to their voice. I think some writers do as well.

    You won't develop a voice if you imitate other writers. You will probably learn from them, but you'll be writing in their voice, not your own. You'll become a writing impersonator.
     
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  4. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Check out Twain's essay, "Cooper's Prose Style."
     
  5. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Compare the way people wrote 100 or even 50 years ago to the way we write today. Compare MG or YA books to books marketed at adult. A lot of the differences are a matter of voice.

    In terms of finding your own voice, I think it generally just means writing in the way that feels comfortable to you, rather than the way you think you "should" write. There's a problem if the way that feels comfortable isn't clear enough or isn't appealing to readers, of course. Then I guess you work on changing your voice!
     
  6. Solar
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    Solar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it has something to do with style and persona. Though it depends on the context. For instance, different novels may have different narrative personas. Whereas if you're a polemicist you'll develop a style and page persona that is unique to you, and this will shine through in each piece you write. Compare the writing styles and personas of Sartre and Camus. Quite distinct aren't they?

    The idea of finding your voice comes from the desire to create your own territory, to be original and therefore contribute something fresh to the corpus of literature. At first, in order to learn the ropes, you imitate those who came before you (the Ancient Greeks called this Mimesis). This process of reworking that which came before you helps you to develop your own style. It's a bit like when we grow up: we imitate adults in order to learn, but then we struggle for independence and individuality.
     
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  7. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you're pretty close to the reality here. One can't "develop" a voice; we find it. And I do think the idea of "finding it" actually only means realizing what we already have. And we know we've found it when we stop worrying about it.
     
  8. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I found my writer's voice writing short stories. I think because I was able to go through the process quicker - idea, write, seek advice/critiques, rewrite, polish, finish. With novels, because the process is so much longer, I found it a little harder to recognize that I repeated tricks, had favorite words, and that I phrased things in certain ways. Looking back over the paper work I can see it now but it's hard when you're into it and years are passing.

    For me voice begins in the mind, the way you think things before it even reaches the paper, before it can even be arranged and rearranged. By being more aware of how you think of things and make opinions and challenge those opinions - that in itself can help you discover your voice. Looking at everything fresh - not just seeing a pretty woman but wondering what exactly makes her pretty - to YOU or even for that matter - to anyone.
    A big vocabulary is of no benefit if you do not know how to use it. There's no such thing as a limited vocabulary only the limits you put on arranging your words. The Bible is impeccably written and I think only contains about 12,000 different words. An average lexicon is about 45,000.

    Your writer's voice will appear the more you look for it. The more you're less satisfied with just writing down anything.

    I noticed it when I realized the stories sounded like 'me'. They had my 'trademarks.' And I was more forgiving of my offbeat style instead of trying to sound like other writers.
     
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  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have several voices. I suspect that everybody does. In real life, using the spoken-word version of "voice", you have a voice for Aunt Mildred that's different fro the one that you have for your old friends from college, that's different from the one that you have for your co-workers, that's different from the one that you have for that toxic cousin that you aren't ready to cut off but have to maintain firm boundaries with.

    I think that in developing a writing voice, you choose one of the possible voices that you're capable of, and you embrace that voice and push it closer to its limit, closer to the best that you can make of it.
     
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  10. Dunning Kruger
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    Dunning Kruger Active Member

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    At the very least, you should know when you dont have your voice. It's actually what led me to this website. I have a project I am working on and I probably wrote 8,000 words or so and I could tell it didnt work. It's historical fiction and it was dry and boring. It would be dry and boring for a straight up history textbook. And so I fiddled around with some fiction, some of which worked ok. The difference was voice. With the historical fiction, I didnt have the right voice to deliver the story given the topic, the audience, and my ability. The voice would have worked for a master's thesis on the topic but not historical fiction. In my mind, the right voice is the intersection between our personality, our ability, the type of story or writing, and the language/structure that works best with those variables.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Your voice begins to come through when the mechanics of writing (spelling, vocabulary, sentence and paragraph structure, and so on) no longer dominate your attention, so you are free to express your thoughts natueally.
     
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  12. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    I developed my voice through writing songs since I was about 11 years old. I have a particular flow and rhythm. I also tend to write short sentences because of this method.
     
  13. Victoria Griffin
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    Victoria Griffin Member

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    I take issue with the idea of finding your voice. While many writers do have an identifiable voice, I don't see voice as concrete enough that one writer must have one voice. I don't think there's anything to stop you from writing different stories in different voices; in first person, these voices may be especially distinct. If you are writing from the perspective of a middle-aged male construction worker in one story, you would expect a different voice than a story centering around a six-year-old female, especially if the stories differ in tone.

    However, this opinion is founded on my personal definition of voice. There is bound to be a great deal of variety in opinions concerning a topic without an objective definition. I look forward to following this discussion.
     
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  14. uncephalized
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    uncephalized Active Member

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    Yes, this exactly.

    This, I agree with to some extent. To me this is like saying that you'll never develop your own musical style by imitating the notes of other musicians. That's just how you start; imitation is the onset of learning. if you never move on from there, sure; but imitation is how you add those tools to your box.

    I very much disagree. You develop your voice by practicing writing, the same as you would when singing, by practicing singing. And through deliberate practice you can change your voice, in either discipline--imitate Bob Dylan long enough, and your voice will naturally start to sound more like his. Imitate Faulkner and your writing voice will pick up his mannerisms. You develop in the direction you practice.

    Definitely. And again, the music thing applies; I can adopt a twang when I play a country song, or I can switch to a formal choral voice to perform Ave Maria in Latin. Or I'll start dropping consonants and slurring my vowels if I'm singing in a modern pop style. Whatever you practice is how you sound. I don't see any reason the same doesn't work for writing.
     
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  15. jannert
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    I do agree with what you said, and thanks for pointing out the fact that I sounded too dictatorial on that issue! Of course if you imitate other writers, that can be a great start towards developing your own voice. I think my head got stuck in the 'singing' mode when I was writing that. Everybody knows singers who can sing 'just like so-and-so." Some of them keep doing exactly that, and make a career for themselves doing a tribute act. Others move on and become more recognisably themselves. I think writers can certainly do the same. You can certainly do worse than imitate great authors, or authors you love to read, as long as you're not actually copying them in every way. Hint: copy a singer's voice, but choose different songs.

    I know there are several writers who influenced me, although I didn't consciously attempt to imitate them. But they certainly infused my writing with a certain tone ...and I'm very grateful to them.
     
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  16. uncephalized
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    uncephalized Active Member

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    Well, what do you know. Our opinions weren't so divergent as they seemed. :)
     
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  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Naw. I'm a good example of a person who finds it easy to jump onto my high horse and gallop off in all directions. I need a reality jolt, now and again.
     
  18. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's just how you choose your words, and how you describe things, the sorts of imagery and metaphors you use. Turns of phrases, perhaps. For example plenty of readers have told me I use very unusual and fresh metaphors - couldn't tell you what those are cus for me, they're rather normal lol. In my case I'm beginning to think perhaps a lifetime of being exposed to multiple cultures has affected the way I connect ideas together, what I think resembles one another, and so to the western ear it sounds unique whereas for me, it sounds normal. Anyway, voice - sometimes it might just be about how ideas connect, the rhythm of things. I think it's a lot about finding the way you like to write, basically, while still making sure it's good writing.
     
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  19. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Imitation is only the start. The more one writes, the more one's own voice will come through. The more one tries to deliberately develop a voice, the more artificial and forced it becomes. (I've seen this through a number of new writers I've beta'd for). An author's (or singer's) own voice comes when they quit thinking about it and just think about the story or the song.
     
  20. uncephalized
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    uncephalized Active Member

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    Yeah, that's why I said
    ------

    It may be forced while you are practicing. But the act of practicing alters, over time, what feels natural.

    I had no voice at all on my ukulele or my guitar, until I practiced one. And the voice I have formed over time, the one that now feels like my 'natural' voice, is the one I practiced. It's not something I found already waiting within me. It's something I developed. And oddly enough, it developed in the direction I 'forced' it to by choosing what kind of music to play and how to play it!

    Similarly, learning to write in a new style may feel forced at first. But do it long enough and it just becomes another vernacular you can use at your discretion. No one is born knowing how to write in journalistic style--or any style at all, for that matter. It's all about what you practiced. Just because you may have been working at something for so long that it now feels natural to perform in that way doesn't mean that's your only possible natural voice--it's the one you've developed through your unique learning experiences layered onto your natural range of possibilities.
     
  21. Victoria Griffin
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    The idea of voice being learned rather than found seems much more realistic to me. Especially when I think about how much my own voice (as much as any voice is mine) has changed over the years.
     
  22. Dunning Kruger
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    Dunning Kruger Active Member

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    Finding your voice is a part of finding out who you are as a person. Its is a process of learning and exploration that changes over time. Hence it is both learned and found.
     
  23. Masked Mole
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    Masked Mole Contributing Member

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    Stop! You must fight! I demand it! And you call yourself Writing Forum members....
     
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  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    We all wear different hats. At one moment, I can be a dad, at another, a dreamer in the vastness of the universe, another moment a lover sharing his feelings with his soulmate. Every hat has its own voice.

    In the same way, a writer will find many voices, corresponding to the head space he or she is in for a particular story, or even scene. These voices will have elements in common, based on the thought and language patterns of the individual, but also different based on the situational factors.

    All of these drive the writer's voice, and that voice is a dynamic, living entity. It can only truly emerge when the writer can let go of the "sentence constructor" hat, where the writer is so focused on technique that there is no room for the other hats to be worn.
     
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  25. aClem
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    aClem Active Member

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    My own "voice" depends a lot on what I am writing. Doing a first-person story about a garbage man would have to be quite a bit different than a first person story about a psychologist. The fact that I am neither requires that I modify the "voice" to fit the narrator. Even in third person stories, the audience for a romance novel (not that I would attempt one) is not the same as the audience for an adventure story. Obviously, Forrest Gump's voice isn't one that can be used repeatedly, for example. But it certainly worked.
     
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