Friday, January 6, 2012

Finding my Voice

Lately I think I've found my own voice as a writer. Ever since reading The Phoenix Guards in middle school I've been very aware of 'voice' as a component of stories. In that book Brust grabs you with the voice of his narration. It's flamboyant, unique, and at all times amusing. A masterpiece.

My voice isn't like that, and for a time I thought that because my voice wasn't immediately noticeable, it wasn't really a voice at all. It's taken me years to realize that voice often is subtle. It doesn't 'grab' the reader. Most voices are, for the most part, unnoticeable until attention is called to them.

It can be thought of like any natural, human voice. Some people have voices so distinctive that after hearing it once you'll know it forever. James Earl Jones, Gilbert Godfried,  Patrick Stewart - these are the folks with voices so unique they grab you. However, most everyone's voice is distinct. Nine times out of ten you can identify your friends and even acquaintances by their voice. You wouldn't know how to describe it, because while their voice is unique it isn't particularly distinctive.

So, my writing voice isn't a James Earl Jones type of writing voice. I can live with that. Because the folks who do end up reading my work will still know my voice, even if they can't really describe what it's like to their friends (which is fine - they can just tell their friends to read my stories!).

For a long time I studied and imitated voice. I knew what I wanted from each author I read - the legendary feel of Tolkien, the conviction and viscerality of Goodkind, the whimsy of Brust, etc. I thought at the time that if I managed to synthesize all these things into one voice then that would be mine.

Eventually I moved on to focusing on other things, and lost my focus on - and keen awareness of - voice. This was a good thing, because as obsessed as I was in siphoning out those elements from each voice, I was doing nothing more than imitating them. Each passage of my work read like a different author, depending on which feel I wanted it to have. I didn't have my own voice - Like a literary Ursula I'd stolen (poorly, no doubt) numerous others. (Manly Disney Reference!)

When my focus drifted, my own voice finally emerged - or re-emerged, as I look back and read early stories from before that period, I see that my voice had already been developing. It had just been hijacked when I focused too much on the issue. Lately a lot of blogs and tweets I've been reading have concerned themselves with voice (and thus imply that the reader should be likewise concerned about it) and I can't help but cringe. Now, I think the best thing a writer can do when concerned about voice is to ignore it completely. It will inevitably come on its own.

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