05 May 2013

V is for Voice - You Might Be a Redneck

Of the many writing courses I've taken and articles I've read, one thing they all stress as the quintessential element to master, is the finding of your voice.

To me, this was always confusing because I've been attempting to learn the craft of writing fiction. Shouldn't my individual characters have their own voices? But how do you find your natural voice no matter what it is you are writing? What is voice anyway? It's your written prose minus all those words you think will make you sound important and smart. Forget all that, just be yourself. That's what your readers want to hear.

Voice can be described as how you sound when you write the same story as another writer, but with the words you've grown to know and use in your everyday vocabulary. If you're a singer, it's how differently you sing the National Anthem from the next artist. Think Roseanne Bar vs. Christina Aguilera vs. Steve Tyler. They sing the same words, yet the song takes on a whole new sound.

In the same sense, the writer's voice will introduce a new pitch or tone with word choices, dialect, and timing. Two writers can write the same story, but the read will be different if they have voices which are distinguishable from one another. There are some word choices which make most voices sound the same.

The truly unique voices are devoid of commonalities which make the tone boring or condescending. The writer wanting to sound important or intelligent rather than tell a story or make a point, produces a narrative which is preachy or contrived. That's what happens to us when writing rules are enforced. Maybe that's why they say to not think about the rules of writing when drafting. Write what you want to write. Get it down. That's where your voice will happen.

I witnessed this over the weekend. It wasn’t in a novel or an article on writing. I ran into a classified ad. I immediately discovered, in the simplest terms, the nature of voice. This is who you are, where you came from, and what the world will know as you, without a face. Whether it's you the author, or you the narrator, we hear you. And here's a test on voice. Read the first ad.

I hear Jeff Foxworthy preparing for his yard sale next weekend, “If you put a price tag on them chester drawers. Uh, let me say that properly,” and with a more proper choice of words, he says, “the chest of drawers,” and then back to his original voice, “...you might be a redneck.”

If you enjoyed this, please read my other articles in this past April's A-Z Challenge.

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