This Writing Thing – Voice, Part I

From This Wiki entry: The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of their common usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works)

Let’s break that down into its components . . .

Syntax – linguistic structure above the word level (e.g. how sentences are formed). It refers both to particular sets of rules, and also to the academic field that studies those rules.

Well, that sounds (and it is) grammar. Now, it turns out there are a lot of different grammars. Some are currently in style, and some are out of style. For instance, at one time it was understood the pronoun “he” referenced both men and women (the equivalent of the awkward “they”) when gender was not known.

Now it’s preferred “he” and “she” be used if known, but if not known, try and find out which it is. As a last resort, use “they”.

Diction – refers to the writer’s or the speaker’s distinctive vocabulary choices and style of expression in a poem or story.

The example would be using “Yo! Wassup?” versus “My good man; how may I help you?”

Diction comprises eight elements: Phoneme, Syllable, Conjunction, Connective, Noun, Verb, Inflection, and Utterance.

That’s nice. I should probably look those up, but the example is close enough for me.

Punctuation – is “the use of spacing, conventional signs, and certain typographical devices as aids to the understanding and correct reading, both silently and aloud, of handwritten and printed texts.” Another description is: “The practice, action, or system of inserting points or other small marks into texts, in order to aid interpretation; division of text into sentences, clauses, etc., by means of such marks.

By now I’m getting a tad aggravated. All of that seems a bit toward the technical aspect of writing. None of it sounds like a “voice” specific to the writer except the “Yo!” and “My good man!”

Even then, it seems a bit thin as explanations . . . What I mean is that up to this point, based on those descriptions, nearly everyone should have very similar voices.

Let’s continue.

Character development – when I look this up, Wikipedia points me to “characterization”; the concept of creating characters for a narrative.

I read further . . . The term characterization was introduced in mid 15th century. Aristotle promoted the primacy of plot over characters, that is a plot-driven narrative, arguing in his Poetics that tragedy “is a representation, not of men, but of action and life.” This view was reversed in the 19th century, when the primacy of the character, that is a character-driven narrative, was affirmed first with the realist novel, and increasingly later with the influential development of psychology.

Wow . . . that sounds important. Let me read it again . . . Wow . . . that sounds important.

I think . . . I think . . . Damn! . . . I almost had it!

I went looking on the internet and came across these articles:

However, those are mechanics that seem both generic and independent of writing.

HERE I found the following: Character development is, by definition, the change in characterization of a Dynamic Character, who changes over the course of a narrative. At its core, it shows a character changing. Most narrative fiction in any media will feature some display of this.

That makes sense . . . they also mention believability is important. So, for instance, showing a politician doing good work, being honest and genuinely caring about his or her constituency is not going to come across as believable.

A character should honestly represent a human being (or elf, orc, wizard, alien, and so on). The character, if human, should behave as a human being might behave given the circumstances they find themselves in. Batman comes to mind.

I also found THIS. The writer admits to writing primarily plot-driven novels, but he gives the ole college and defines character development using nine specific points.

Let me take those in order as they relate to my writing.

  1. Communication style – how does your character talk?

Hmm . . . I don’t imbue a lot of “stylistic” dialogue to most of my characters; pretty much I use what I consider straight English.

If narrating, I tend toward correct grammar and sentence structure (or what passes for correct grammar in my world). If writing speech, I shoot for how people actually talk. I don’t shoot for how I talk. I shoot for how I wish I could talk.

Regardless, there’s nothing that gonna set my characters apart when it comes to their communication style.

  1. History – where does your character come from?

Again, hmm . . . you know, when I say elf, man, woman, I’m about done. My stories seldom depend on where people came from. Sometimes I throw in a tidbit from the character’s past, but often it’s little more than a hint.

In part, I think this comes from the number of short stories I do. Flash fiction is even more constraining; if I start throwing in background stories, I don’t have time for the story itself.

AND . . . I think it does work in short stories, and so I can’t think of a reason it would not work in a novel.

Remember the part where I write for myself and write what I want to read? Well, I’m not that interested in a detailed character history. I am interested in action.

I strongly believe in developing the character through his/her actions.

  1. Appearance – what does he/she look like?

Man, I’m falling flat on all of these! I don’t typically describe characters, and when I do, it’s minimal; minimal as in using “he” and “she”. I occasionally throw in a mention of clothing, but very general. In my first NaNoWriMo novel, I described the eye-color of the protagonist. On this latest one, I mentioned how tall he was.

As a rule, other than gender I usually leave physical descriptions off the page. What little I write can perhaps serve as an anchor for the reader’s imagination but make no mistake; I leave it to the reader to visualize the character.

The reason for that is very simple . . . it makes it easier for the reader to assume themselves in the role, or even in multiple  roles.

See, if I read something like “Andris stepped through the doorway, turning slightly so his shoulders would clear the frame. His head cleared the ornate crossbeam of the seven-foot tall doorway with only a few inches to spare. A slight breeze set his jet-black hair in motion, allowing his perfect ears to play hide-and-seek. He called out a greeting. His voice carried a rich timbre as warm as the fine wood adorning the room. His smile allowed his perfect teeth to dazzle the ladies as he passed by them. All eyes, male and female, tracked his movements, and the interplay of his sinuous muscles as he moved drew more than one sigh. He stopped in front of Lady Jaye, his green eyes looking down at her at a slight angle, thus giving her a good view of his perfect nose.”

I really don’t care if this is the greatest hero ever in the history of fiction and movies . . . there is no way I would ever see myself in that character’s shoes or relate to anything he does. I, as a reader, can’t identify with the character.

Unlike me, some readers like fixing a mental image of the characters, but I would prefer “Bob walked into the room. He had a presence about him that brought him more notice than he liked. Deftly maneuvering through the crowd so as to avoid engaging in conversation, he stopped in front of Lady Jaye. ‘How’s it hanging?’ he asked her.”

See? I could see myself in that character’s shoes. I might even stretch my self-image to include ‘presence’ as part of my repertoire. After all, flatulence can on occasion be described as ‘presence’.

  1. Relationships – What kinds of friends/family does he/she have?

Wow . . . this is a tricky one. The elven story had a family. However, most of my characters make new friends, and sometimes get new families. My preferred narrative involves new relationships.

By that I mean I prefer writing about the dynamics of people just meeting each other. There may be existing friends in the periphery, but their presence and relationship is taken for granted.

This goes hand-in-hand with the little-or-no-history bit.

My characters are usually people who are self-sufficient. Not anti-social, but not especially gregarious. Relationships that come their way are with other people who are also independent. There may be friends and family, but they are background to the central characters.  

This comes from the stories I like to read . . . the interaction of two or more people getting to know each other, cooperating, or not, as they face difficult situations. Established relationships hold very little interest for me both in movies and books. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Now, someone might argue I could still have friends and family interacting with a new relationship, perhaps working out the difficulties of someone new coming into a group with established dynamics, and dwelling on the adjustments each character has to make to find a new group balance.

If I wanted real life, I’d join a social club. For me, it’s more interesting for people who don’t know each other to clash and adjust to each other.

Plus, my characters would have little patience for meddling friends and families.

~ ~ o ~ ~

I’m not even halfway through this, and it’s already longer than most people will read. I think I will leave the remaining five points and my conclusion about voice for a future post.

However, so far I see little hope for me . . . According to the above I either have a voice no one will recognize as a voice, or I have no voice at all. Either way, it sounds like bad news for my chances of becoming a “real” writer.

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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About disperser

Odd guy with odd views living an odd life during odd times.
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8 Responses to This Writing Thing – Voice, Part I

  1. AnnMarie says:

    In “The King’s Speech”, the King yells out “I HAVE A VOICE!”, and his speech therapist says, “Yes, you do.” Voice is personal and one of a kind, for obvious reasons. So, ‘voice’ your thoughts and unique perspectives of the world in your writing without minding suggestions from the peanut gallery. “Professionals” don’t know it all. They are not you and cannot stand nor speak from where you are. This much I KNOW and voice with confidence. But if this does not resonate within you, then toss it in with the other peanuts.


    • disperser says:

      Professionals do, however, have insights that can be helpful. A lot of good golf teachers are not themselves as good as their students. Same for gymnasts and other physical sports.

      Writing and the associated mental stuff is a tad different, but some of it is the same. There are mechanics and tried and true stuff relating to characters, plots, pacing, exposition, etc.

      Where I am right now is at the “organic” stage . . . my field of writing is fertilized with a healthy dose of manure, some of which will work and some that will just stink stuff up. I want to get to the point where I’m using specific fertilizers to still grow what I like, but have it be better.

      How is that for a metaphor?

      My next post on the subject will try to draw some conclusions about the strengths and weaknesses with my voice (whatever that is). However, it will be based on what I like, and that may not necessarily be what others like.

      If I go strictly by the numbers of readers I have, it seems I’m an acquired taste. Presuming I want to expose more people to the ideas, adventures, and stories I write, I think I need to make the package more attractive to a broader audience while retaining the individuality and what makes my writing mine. It sounds tricky, hence why I’ll listen, learn, adapt, and ultimately come up with what I think works for me.

      Or I’ll be happy just writing for myself and four other people.


      • AnnMarie says:

        Well then, I’m happy, too, for being one of The Four. And I can feel the added confidence in your reply. You can do it, Bob . . . I mean, Bro!


  2. I say just write the way you write…how you like to write. You have a voice and are the only one who can put that voice into words/stories…based on your intelligence, personality, life experiences, etc. :-)
    Every writer has a style and I’m glad they are not all the same. I’ve read books that had very different writing styles and loved them…like The Road by Cormac McCarthy…Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt…Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez…Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell…I think of e e cummings poetry, etc. And they all had an audience/readership who love their work.
    HUGS!!! :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Before the “etc”, I meant to add your “imagination”, too. :-)


  4. That Andris par is an excellent example of what would currently be regarded as terrible writing. Do be aware that writing, like everything, has fashion seasons. As the average person is lacking in brain cells, and can’t hold anything up there for longer than a few minutes, one is currently recommended to write action, dialogue and emotions. Passive, descriptive and telling the reader in great detail are all out. For now.


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