I was on a business call the other night speaking with a man who lived in Oregon when we added another woman to the call. As soon as this third party joined us, the man’s voice and manner changed. He went from sounding very normal and nondescript to suddenly sounding like a cross between Yogi Bear and a Scottish Highlander. I was totally freaked out.
He continued in this voice and manner for the entire call. Why? Did he secretly have a crush on the other woman and this was his way of sounding “debonair?” Was he terrified of her and used this new voice and manner to distance himself? I have no clue.
In the craft of writing, this Yogi Bear/Highlander persona could be called a character’s or narrator’s voice. Voice is one element of a writer’s style–that five letter word that many writers seem to have a hard time defining.
Style relates to how the writer puts words on the page—the arrangement of the words—but it’s also more than that.
In Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction,Jeff Vandermeer defines style as follows:
This slippery term more or less means the way the story is told; i.e. the patterns of words, phrases, and sentences through which the writer achieves certain effects….Style is the means by which the writer’s subject matter, passions, and interests reach their fullest expression on the page.
He explains that most writers fall somewhere between Ernest Hemingway (sparse) and Angela Carter (lush) and also between the painter Chagall (who always painted in the same style) and Picasso (who experimented and mastered many styles). Read more
In Joe Fassler’s recent interview with Stephen King in “The Atlantic” we learn what the bestselling author thinks a first line in a novel should accomplish. Besides establishing time and space, and hooking the reader with compelling action, an opening line should, most importantly, establish voice.
We’ve heard the term “voice” before but what is it exactly? King describes it as follows:
“A novel’s voice is something like a singer’s — think of singers like Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan, who have no musical training but are instantly recognizable. When people pick up a Rolling Stones record, it’s because they want access to that distinctive quality. They know that voice, they love that voice, and something in them connects profoundly with it. Well, it’s the same way with books. Anyone who’s read a lot of John Sanford, for example, knows that wry, sarcastic amusing voice that’s his and his alone. Or Elmore Leonard — my god, his writing is like a fingerprint. You’d recognize him anywhere. An appealing voice achieves an intimate connection — a bond much stronger than the kind forged, intellectually, through crafted writing.” Read more
Passion for music led singer, songwriter, and guitarist Boz Scaggs to a successful career. Passion led him to find his own unique style. And you can do the same as a writer.
Scaggs picked up a guitar when he was 12 years old and immersed himself in music in the 1950s, listening to every style he could find on the radio. Despite that, he said in an interview recently in Luxury Las Vegas magazine, that he doesn’t think he’s a particularly gifted musician compared to vocalists like Sam Cooke, Ella Fitzgerald, and Michael McDonald. While he can emulate the nuances of Sam Cooke and other singers, Scaggs said Cooke has a texture to his voice that is uniquely his. Read more