Let’s say you’re a diverse writer. You have sci-fi novel in the works, a dark, literary short story ready to send out and the first draft of a humorous novella awaiting revision. Oh! And don’t forget the stack of flash stories you sent out just this morning. Okay, you’re incredibly prolific, too, not to mention independently wealthy or comfortably retired in order to have all that time to write and afford to keep a roof over your head!
What would every one of those stories have in common? You. Your vision. Your style. Your syntax. Your words. Your personality. Your voice. The very things that make you the person you are live around, within, under and between your words. I’m not talking about the writer blatantly intruding into the story like an actor breaking the fourth wall. I’m talking about what makes your story yours and my story mine, even if we write the same plot with the same characters. It’s a signature. To complicate matters, characters have their own voices, too. Is it any wonder people think we’re eccentric?!?
So where do you find this elusive voice? I think it’s there and always has been. It may change over time. After all, we mature (Ha! Well, some of you might! I’m still waiting). We get older (I’ve got that one down!). Stuff happens that may alter our perspective on life (Can’t avoid that one!).
Here are some things I notice in my stories that I think identify them as mine:
Many of my characters are slightly kooky, over-the-top or grotesque.
I write a lot of dialogue and use it a lot to endow characters with traits and to imply back story or to send the story forward.
I throw in touches of humor.
My stories tend to be about family, relationships with a strong sense of place.
I love sentence fragments.
Try this exercise:
I may have mentioned this in a previous blog. One of my favorite workshop exercises was “Write in the style of.” Each student picked a fellow student’s name from a bag, and we had to write a short-short story in that writer’s style. The following week, we read the stories aloud. Hearing another writer read a story in my voice was not only enlightening, but also hilarious. I heard my quirks, my faults and my strengths. Having to write in a style I wouldn’t normally write (Mystery), forced me out of my comfort zone. It allowed me to experiment with different words, different scenarios and different characters. It was fun and a challenge. The real revelation, however, was that even though I wrote in another writer’s style, bits of my voice were still present. Try this exercise. If you don’t have a writer-friend to trade “voices,” pick a writer you admire and see where it takes you.
Be literal: read your work aloud. Get comfortable hearing the sound of your voice. Read with expression, letting your personality breathe life into the words, your characters, your setting and your narrative. Tell the story as only you can.
#1 by Matt S. on July 29, 2013 - 10:27 am
Great article Darlene. I like that idea of writing in someone else’s style. It’s kind of like “improv-writing”, where you are someone else for a short while, and that helps you see yourself in a different way. It’s like in art class when they tell you to copy a famous painting. You’re trying out someone else’s style of brush strokes, and that gives you a new perspective on your own brush strokes.
#2 by wordimprovisor177 on July 29, 2013 - 12:06 pm
Thanks for your comment, Matt! It’s exactly like painting in someone else’s style. I remember at SVA, we had a painting teacher who required us to stretch and gesso our own canvases (which I had always done, anyway), but then also had us do underpainting as many of the old masters had done. It was fascinating, but not for those of little patience! Only toward the end of the semester did he allow us to work in acrylics. Oils. Oils. Oils! That’s when I learned using a styrofoam cup to hold your turpentine was not a good idea!
#3 by Matt S. on July 29, 2013 - 3:58 pm
Styrofoam + Turpentine = “clean up on aisle 7”, or in your case, “Please send the janitor up to room 25 B.”
Yes, you had to have a lot of patience with that technique. I had projects like that in college as well. BUt you do learn a lot.
And actually another references to your article is the concept of Halloween costumes. Stepping into someone else’s persona, or something else’s, if you happen to be bacon & eggs!
#4 by wordimprovisor177 on July 29, 2013 - 4:02 pm
LOL! “Exactly,” said the watermelon to the bacon and eggs! If I can find those pictures they’re going up on facebook! Thanks again for your comments, Matt.
#5 by Matt S. on July 29, 2013 - 4:12 pm
You’re welcome! Enjoy reading your articles.
I have some photos someplace too. I’ll have to find them.