Thursday, August 26, 2010

Voice

I have sneezed so many times in the past couple of days that my whole body is sore. Lately I've been picturing grabbing a spoon and using it to dig out my sinuses. I don't really need those horrible, painful, clogged up things, do I? Maybe I could donate them. . .

So, instead of re-reading Paranormalcy, answering a bunch of interviews, tweaking a few last details in Supernaturally, and writing an anthology piece I am . . . well, right now I'm whining. Obviously.

Along with those allergies comes a very funny voice, though. A voice that isn't mine, and that I feel like I need to apologize for when I talk to people on the phone. You know that feeling--how jarring it is to hear the words coming out of your own mouth but not recognize the voice?

I think that's kind of how my third-person books read. There was nothing wrong with the voice--it was a solid voice--but it wasn't my voice. I hadn't found it yet.

All authors have a voice. There is one author I know, and reading her work feels like slipping into a warm bathtub. It's soothing, melodic, flowing. Sometimes it's a problem when there's an action scene, because her writing is so mellow that it's hard to feel the tension, but overall it's a lovely voice perfectly suited to her books.

When I think of my voice, I imagine walking up to you with a big, friendly grin on my face. Then I lift up a baseball bat and slam it into your head. WHAM! WELCOME TO MY VOICE! JUST TRY AND IGNORE IT!

Point: My voice will give you massive head injuries.

Okay, that's not the point. Point is, I have a strong narrative voice. Sometimes I worry I wield it a little too heavily and try to edit it back to a gentle whiffle bat instead of a solid wood one. But it's my voice, and while it does change from book to book and character to character, there is always that underlying style, that tone, that way of wielding it. And I'm happy with it. It wasn't until I gave myself the freedom to really use my voice--to be funny, and sarcastic, and let my characters be characters--that I hit my stride with my writing.

I was talking with a friend yesterday about dystopians and I honestly don't think I could ever write one. I can be dark, I can be negative, but to maintain that oppressive lack of hope for an entire novel? To have to kill my funny? It makes me cringe just thinking about it. I know what my voice works for and what it doesn't, and I've accepted that there are certain genres I just can't write. (For now. I also once said I'd never write first person, which, umm, yeah.)

My favorite authors are the ones whose voices I know I can count on. Their characters are individuals, but there's just that something to their voice that unites even very different books. So, how about you? Which authors have your favorite voices? Do you like/write with a very present voice, or a very behind-the-scenes voice? How did you find your voice? And, for future reference, would you prefer aluminum alloy, ash wood, or whiffle when I smack you in the face?

26 comments:

Stephanie McGee said...

I'm still trying to find my voice. I might do what Natalie did and just read all my writing back to back and see what hits me. I'm just not sure how to know what my voice is when I read/hear it.

And ash wood b/c I hear it breaks really easy when hitting something hard. (Like my head.)

Vicki Rocho said...

Still searching for my authentic voice. I suspect it's relatively snarky though. I like funny, but not stand-up comedienne routine funny. More jump-out-of-the-bushes-wearing-something-hideous funny.

Might I request one of those padded numbers they use in anger management courses? Yeah...that'll do me just fine.

Julie said...

My voice is very different with each character... enough to make me wonder if Sybil is my second middle name and Mom just didn't tell me. I write in first person, but also in third, just depending on how the story feels right.

My favorite writers do have voices I count on and can relate to and occasionally disappear into (see Maggie Stiefvater for why I didn't get any housecleaning done when Shiver and Linger came out).

And I'd prefer... if you're amenable, a badminton racket, cause the waffle pattern on the face is going to be the next big thing. :)

Suzi McGowen said...

Ash wood, please. (Though wiffle would be a smarter choice.)

Natalie Whipple said...

I know my voice, but I'm not sure I can describe it like you. A baseball bat is pretty much the perfect comparison:P

Rick Daley said...

I can see why you would struggle with dystopian stories. You always make me grin.

my current WIP is a story-within-a-story, and it has two different narrative voices. It's an interesting challenge, hopefully I'll be able to pull it off. Of course that are still elements of my storytelling style that probably transcend the shifts in narrative style, so while I have different narrative tones, there may still be an underlying voice that binds them together.

Did I just answer and then un-answer your question? Or maybe I'm just rambling. To be honest, I'm pressed for time and I can't go back and read what I just wrote so I may never know.

Rhonda said...

I'm sorry you're suffering with sinus issues. I'm the original poster child for sinus crap...had my first bout when I was 3 days old and my eyes swelled shut. Fun times, fun times.

I know what you mean about voice...I almost always write in the first person and I'm afraid my *voice* is just too much. Too snarky, too sarcastic, too...me. *sigh*

I think I'll go with the aluminum because 1. it's funny to hear some people try to pronounce it and 2. I suspect it would make a *twang* noise in my head and that might be kind of fun.

Whirlochre said...

Funny you should mention dystopia. I'm currently working on something vaguely dystopian, and the main problem I'm having is how do I make this funny?

More generally, I have always found it easy to be absurd and ever so slightly over the top in equal measure, and that, I suppose, is my style. My mistake is the past was to dish everything up in a similar vein, and I dfidn't hit what I currently think of as my style until I took a very deadpan and forensic approach to the serving up of all my narrativular courgettes.

All of that, however, is the filling. The main event is the characters and what happens between them and the monde fictoire. As my background is theatrical rather than literary, I don't go in for generating reams of character background notes that will never be used. Give me the right hat, and I can get the dialogue verbatim as I poach an egg for breakfast. Unless I have a sore throat. Then, all I get is Captain Gravel and the Phlegm Beasts.

Hope the sinuses improve.

Dara said...

I'm also still searching for my voice. However, I think I've found aspects of my voice. It's more behind-the-scenes since I write in third person 9 times out of 10.

Lisa said...

Still looking for that voice. Waiting for it to click.

Curious. Do you think your blog helped you find your voice? You're usually very funny and light on the blog and I sense a lot of that in Paranormalcy, too.

Tere Kirkland said...

I feel the same way about third person. I know it can be done and done well, but not by me, not at this stage of my writing development. The first book I ever wrote was in third, and it never felt engaging until I switched it to first.

Last year I switched my current novel from first to third and it was a mess. I felt like I'd lost everything that made it special in the first place. But switching it back again to first actually helped me to add to the voice I'd lost in a different way than the original version.

Thought-provoking post.

Hope you feel better soon!

Lyla said...

Aluminum alloy. That BONGGGGGG noise is extremely satisfying.

One of my favorite voices is J.K. Rowling's... I love all the quirks in her writing. They flow. It's like listening to a stand-up comedian, only more sly than hilarious... if that makes sense?

I'm not sure if my voice is baseball-bat present but I do tend to write a lot of wry-humor main characters. They come easily. So maybe that's my voice...

Marsha Sigman said...

I have always written in the 1st person...at least so far. I like to imagine I am sitting with my feet up, telling you this story through my MC. So, I think my voice is dark funny and sarcastic. Because...hello? Thats how I roll.
And I think a blog really helps too.

Also I would prefer a foam bat.

Zachary Grimm said...

Hi Kiersten! I am sorry you do not feel well...*Cool Health Level Unit Thingies Sent Thru This Post*

I've always enjoyed the late Michael Crichton's many characters, and the few first-person ones (like Disclosure, I believe--could be wrong, don't quote me on that :)..) he did seemed a lot more powerful. But all in all, each of his characters had SOMETHING unique about their voice, and I think it showed through.

Part of how I hear a character's voice in a story is the movie that plays in my head during my reading time. If the character's voice (and the writer's voice) is more unique, the better I hear (and see) the movie in my head.

My writer's voice is slowly emerging, much more so with my attempts at YA stories, which I think is super interesting to think about. Perhaps because I am having fun writing my characters' lives, my playful voice comes through. I also REALLY enjoy their inner dialogue, maybe because I talk to myself ALL THE TIME. Not creepy-like, but more normal.

I prefer whiffle. It makes a nice hollow "DONK" sound on my head that both reminds me of past injuries, but also makes me giggle because it's a funny sound. *Commences giggling at the mere thought*

5 DAYS TIL I EXCITEDLY POST ABOUT PARANORMALCY ON MY FACEBOOK PAGE AND SEMI-THREATEN/BROWBEAT/SARCASTICALLY GUILT-TRIP MY FRIENDS INTO GOING AND BUYING IT! =)

Krista V. said...

Did you see Suzie Townsend's post on PARANORMALCY? :)

theemptypen said...

I hope your author voice is like your blog voice because I enjoy being hit over the head with it.

I'm not sure I can describe my own voice...dark and dense? Wow, does that sound horrible!

Ebony McKenna. said...

Lalalalalala *I'm deliberately not looking at your post on Mockingjay because I haven't got it yet. Either way, I think I'll wait until I get Paranormalcy and devour that first!

Finding your true voice is what writing is all about. It's not really the story you tell but the way that you tell it that makes things unique.

When you write with your heart, when you're not filtering yourself and just letting rip, that's when an author's voice shines.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Suzie Townsend's post on PARANORMALCY

Dayana Stockdale said...

Ash wood for sure. My voice is very present but I'm not so certain about it yet. I write everything in first person present tense. I worry that I don't have enough variety but I think that will come with time. But my voice is not funny. I wish it was, but it just isn't ah well. My favorite author voice is Sandra Cisneros. P.S. I single-handedly got the Hawaii state-wide public library system to pre-order Paranormalcy. go me!

Claire Dawn said...

Balloon bat, please!

A voice I'm loving right now is Terry Pratchett. AWESOMESAUCE!!!

Aubrey said...

As someone who was lucky enough to read Paranormalcy already I have to say I really like your voice!

Keep whacking me with that baseball bat, cause I want more!

Kristin White said...

It is funny that you are posting on this topic! I just read the teaser from Paranormalcy you shared and I had a similar throught. As I was reading I was thinking to myself how Kirsten the style is. As you said, you have a very strong voice that comes through loud and clear in your blog. That fabulous humor and style comes through in your novel and really brings Evie to life!

Madeleine said...

Ash wood - But only because it sounds cool.

I like to think that THE LEMONITES has helped me find my voice, but I think I need to read it to really tell. I am sure that the book helped me find my "way" to write, and I certainly had more fun with it than I could ever have hoped! It's my baby. :D

You'll notice that my review talks about how much Kiersten made it through the book. I could pick something up of yours and recognize the you in it immediately.

I hope you're feeling better soon!

-Madeleine

Kari (Flamingo1325) said...

Wait a minute... why didn't I get smacked in the face? I must have read it wrong or something, even though the voice was the first thing I noticed. I distinctly remember no smacking. We'll have to work on this.... =)

Ahem. Voices I like... Lili St. Crow and Richelle Mead... they are some of the first in YA, once I really got into reading it, where the voice stuck out at me. Where the character REALLY came alive because of the voice. And Rose and Dru are snarky, funny, sarcastic, emotional... they are real. I think Courtney Moulton has a very strong voice in Angelfire as well, and after talking with her a lot in emails, etc... I can definitely see her lurking under Ellie, while also not making Ellie be her. Outside of paranormaly stuff since that's all those... I think Suzanne Young does an astounding job with a spread of both genres and voices. She can do the perky upbeat Tessa (who Evie reminded me of in many ways), and the quieter, more serious characters... she can do the fun and the emotional.

Those are the main ones that stand out to me... But, I liked this post. Once again, you've said some of the obvious things in such a way that it's, uh, obvious. And should you ever smack me in the face, I'll go for ash wood please. It just sounds the best...

Tanvi said...

The voice that most obviously stands out is Anne Rice's. I mean - when you read it, you can feel the velvet smoothness of Lestat, see that glint of gold and hear the way Lestat speaks.

Along with her, I love JK Rowling's witty voice. The underlying Brit tones are so potent in the Harry Potter books.

And Kiersten - I'm reading Paranormalcy, halfway through - congratulations, I think you're brilliant! :)

Kristin said...

Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson have two of the most distinctive authorial voices I know. Though, admittedly, it's only true for the latter in his newer novels. (You can almost hear his voice grow up if you read them in the order he wrote them). I feel like if I found a random, completely obscure passage written by either of them, I would know exactly who wrote it.

I have two different voices - one for still-motion description; no moving/talking people, and another one when people get involved. And the people voice kind of sucks compared to the description voice, because I'm really no good with the pacing.

Aluminum alloy, please. Mostly because of the satisfying reverberation against empty heads.