Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Voice: those "aha, this is YOU!" things.

When you read a Chuck Pahlaniuk book you know it. From the cadence to the language to the "I can't put my finger on it, but I feel the kick you in the gut" mood he creates just in the way he puts the words together.

When you read a Kate DiCamillo book you know it. From the descriptive visual elements, to the heartbreaking care in relationships between characters, to her "habit" of intertwining animals, real or just anthropomorphically alive into her stories: the mouse in Tale of Desperaux, the toy rabbit - oh, the toy rabbit! - in Edward Tulane, the dog in Winn Dixie and even the tiger in Tiger Rising... you read Kate DiCamillo, you know it's her.

Last night, I was reading the opening chapter of my friend Mike's new non-YA book-in-progress, while in the middle of reading his delightful first YA novel, Alchemy (about a young boy's quest to find his father and first love one summer on Cape Cod) and, as I read the first 10 or so pages of this piece in progress, it made me smile to already see, and feel, Mike's voice coming out, setting his writing apart from 10,000 others I might read -- a delight he takes in nostalgia, in playing pun/word games with names and nicknames, and nice sense of observation for little everyday things, in this case, garbage can lids in the snow and ice.

And, this got me to thinking about my own writer's voice. I do think it's distinct and stands out, but it's hard to put one's own finger on what makes one's own voice stand out.

As The Pull of Gravity comes out next year, and with luck, after that, Frankie Sky, this is one of the things I look forward to reading about in reviews above all -- those things about my writer's voice that make my books special and my own.

Can you put your finger on the things that make your voice your own?


  1. I think my style is fairly obvious but not necessarily my voice. And I worry that all my characters sound like me when they actually speak.

  2. I'm punchy, quick, quirky, and funny. I think that kind of "voice" is easier to identify. It seems to me, Gae, that your style is more beautiful and lyrical. Elevated. Smooth. Graceful.


  3. thanks for the shout out. I'm working in some horrible (er) pun ;)

  4. What? Too literal? Okay, for real then: Thank you so much for the screen time. Seeing my name attached to a discussion of voice is rewarding, as I was once told (seriously) by my 3rd grade music teacher that "Every good singer needs a listener, and you Michael are a listener." So I've always been a bit shy with my voice. But in writing, there are no such limitations, as you control everything and can set yourself up for all the best lines, speeches, and come-backs.

    As for my "voice" I have to admit that it's really just an unintentional (but undeniable) combination of Kurt Vonnegut's, Tom Robbins', Richard Russo's, the narrator from "The Wonder Years" and just a little bit of Mike Wood's!

  5. michael, my character's definitely bear my real voice... it is what it is;

    jody, that sounds like a fun voice! and thank you;

    mike, not too literal, funny, if only to me. ;)

  6. Gae, I've only read the short synopsis that you linked us to during ABNA -- and I'm pretty sure I posted a comment (pre-blogging days) -- and I remember vividly your voice. I agree with Jody, but I would also add (just from that small bit, of course): spare, clean, clear, evocative. Distinct.

    My own voice? Not uber-comfortable with defining that yet. But I do think there's a voice there (different than my blogging voice).


  7. Nope on the putting the finger on things that create my own voice. And I'm fearful of knowing.
    I'm afraid I will strat copying myself. And since I am a nobody, I'm not the best person to be copying.

    That said, when I went through line edits, I rejected some rather simple changes becuase I thought it was breaking the author's voice. In this case, though, it had more to do my ear for rhythm and cadence. Properly edited writing sometimes kills the punch line. I still don't know what my voice is, but I can HEAR when language works. Gae, maybe this is the sort of thing that makes us like some writers over others. We hear/feel language the same with that writer (whether or not we're writers ourselves)?

  8. corr> more to do "with" my ear for rhythm and cadence.

    Now that I think about it, maybe "author's voice" is the poetry of prose, the poetry of image, even the poetry of idea, that is (or isn't) present in all fiction.

  9. Randy (Ghostfolk),

    I have a very particular cadence when I write too. Is always difficult to determine what of my editor's changes to accept when it affects my cadence -- but a cadence other readers may not hear. Since my editor is so very spare in her "touching" of my writing/words, i tend to opt to follow her edits. She must like my "voice" and hear something close to my cadence since she took the book, right? So, I try to assume that whatever I'm hearing isn't worth it to keep some extra word that's not working. BUT, like I said, she barely touches my actual writing, so much as has global comments and questions. So, that makes it easy to accept the few changes she makes.

    Meanwhile, I look forward to reading Dead Rules (is that the name?!?!) and letting you know my take on your voice.