Wednesday, July 07, 2010

La la la la, Voice or Viewpoint?


Vicki and Rick have made some excellent points and I want to throw another idea into the mix. At the writers’ conference I just attended, the editors kept saying how they were looking fresh, new voices that transcended genre. Naturally, everyone perked up to figure out what they meant.

To the the editors, voice is the author’s style, developed over time with use. It’s the tone, word choice, and sentence structure he or she uses to tell a story. It also includes how the author mixes description, narrative, and dialogue. It’s pace, tone, sentence length, lyricism. It’s like music.

Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald sound different. So do Kiri Te Kanawa and Deborah Voight. If you know a singer, you can hear a measure or two and say, “Hey, that’s Deborah Voight’s Ariadne. What a voice!”

Same with authorial voice. There have even been computer analyses of authors’ works. Remember that book Primary Colors, by Anonymous? Studies of synax and, well, handwriting (okay, not computer or voice) finally pointed to Joe Klein as the scribe. Most readers can identify Hemingway, Faulkner, and other famous writers by word choice and sentence structure.

So what word do we use to describe when we, as writers, change our syntax and word choice to draw a character? If Vicki writes a 19th Century Englishwoman, or I have a character who speaks Hawaiian pidgin, what is that called? Viewpoint? Character voice?

Ed Gorman, in his blog on voice, says, “I instinctively adapt my style and choice of words to the story at hand. I agree, this is absolutely essential. One of his commenters went on to say that he/she tries to be anonymous so that the character speaks. Also necessary, but I think we're talking about nuances.

Part of us goes into our writing. It’s inevitable, and it’s also desirable. It’s like a fingerprint. It’s what makes writers different. It’s our viewpoint on a story and plot. It’s voice.

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