Drafts, Style, Voice, Writing

Finding a true voice

Usually I read blogs for information, but I’m drawn to several by the conversational style of the blogger.  The writers sound like fun people with keen minds.  I think I’d like to read something by them.  But when I read a sample of their fiction, I’m disappointed.  It’s not the voice I expected.
I’ve also read critiques with more snap and personality than the characters in the critiquer’s stories.
I’m sure it’s not necessary to write fiction in our own voices, whatever that means.  Stories don’t have to be about ourselves.  But some writers have a conversational style that’s more interesting, fresh, and honest than their fictional creations.  
Why is this?  Possible answers:  self-imposed controls, inexperience, imitating models we like.  Writing instructors talk about the need to set the subconscious free and to turn off the internal editor, in the first draft, anyway. 
What can we do to find our personal style and carry it into a story?  How can we get from here to there?  I think it helps to begin with heartfelt emotion and characters who share some trait or experience we can identify with, including antagonists.  It helps to think about issues, places, personalities and events and distill them to conviction (point of view!).  In any story worth reading, the writer shares lot of herself, not necessarily personality or experiences, but those convictions.
I’ll never forget a paragraph written by a student who avoided F’s only because he was always present and attentive and bravely struggled through homework.  The assignment (based on Robert Frost’s Mending Wall) was to write about a personal wall.  His wall, he wrote, was his inability to achieve more than a “D,” no matter how hard he tried.  His words were heartfelt, his voice true, and his paragraph, a stellar creation.  Everybody else wrote what they thought the teacher wanted.
As writers (and maybe in real life), we must not be afraid to show ourselves as naïve, ignorant, or even worse–boring–at least not in the first drafts.  We should not adopt styles we think everyone wants to read.  Sometimes they’re not as good as our own.


4 thoughts on “Finding a true voice”

  1. I too am drawn to some conversational styles. There are some writers who have control of their material and so they come across as natural. I guess that's why they always recommend that we write what we know! :)I think where fiction writing makes some go off into the weeds with their voices is they don't learn to play the character and let go of themselves more, and so the voice feels forced.I once started out writing a short story and my main character was an old homeless man. When I started out in 1st person POV, I went, "Oh hell no, I can't do this…"

  2. Diane's comment makes me think of lots of things, like how we may have trouble with voice if we want to write about someone different/better/more exciting/more daring than we think ourselves to be. Because we think that MC is so different from ourselves, it's hard to give him a voice, unless we copy what every other writer is doing. And I'm not just talking about dialogue–I mean that person's perceptions & attitudes.In the best stories, we forget we're reading a story. There's so much to the character and events are so rich and thoughtful that they feel like experience. To me, that's the definition of "having control of material."

  3. Hi Carol! Good post. Very thought provoking. I for one, find that the conversational style of voice you speak of lends itself well to first person. When I write in first, it just flows because I'm better able to immerse myself into a personality. But when I switch to third, it disappears as if I’m another author who loses the conversational style. I’ve often wondered if others have the same problem of third distancing their voice.

  4. Ashley – good observaton about first & third. Third person does distance us from the character. I think I'm afraid my real voice sounds like an idiot. I'd like to have a personal writing coach, like a voice coach that identifies a singer's best range and improves it with appropriate exercises. Wouldn't that be cool?

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