Friday, May 14, 2010

A Writer’s Voice, Part 2

Welcome to the coffee shop. I'm glad you stopped by to spend some time with us. If you are new to our group, you may want to read part one of this topic. Last month, I wrote about how developing a voice is important to becoming a skillful, professional writer. Link here to read it.

From the quote in the May/June 2010 issue of the Writer’s Digest magazine, it appears that everyone has a natural voice. Brenda Novak explains that our natural voice contains our core values and worldview. In that same issue, a tribute to J.D. Salinger contains a quote from William Cane’s book, Write Like the Masters.

"…voice refers to the feeling and tone of writing, a certain flavor determined by word choice and phrasing that gives a text dimension and makes it peculiarly human."

Look at an example taken from another book I received from BookSneeze, I Am Hutterite, a memoir by Mary-Ann Kirby. She attended kindergarten in the Hutterite community from age two to age five. This is the way they started their mornings:

"We eagerly clasped our hands and bowed our heads to repeat our German prayers in unison before diving in, scooping generous dollops of jam onto the linen-colored cream and plunging the soft, fresh buns into the decadent dip until there wasn't a white streak left at the bottom of our bowls."

This quote is actually longer than the one from After the Hangover in part one and a Hutterite community is probably just as foreign to most people's experience as a Washington D.C. think tank. However, in this quote, no dictionary is required and the choice of words and phrases paints a vivid picture of the enjoyment of these toddlers eating their breakfast. No one would ever mistake R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr.'s voice for that of Mary-Ann Kirby.

Mary-Ann Kirby uses her voice to show the love she had for the people and the land when she was part of a Hutterite community in her early childhood. While she layers the description of her experiences with lyrically rich textures, she is also able to include elements of tension and problems in the same voice. While her voice seems to be her natural one, she obviously worked to make that voice eloquent and clear. I Am Hutterite reminds me of Isak Dinesen's writing in Out of Africa. They both have a hauntingly beautiful voice that captures the essence of a lost time in their lives.

Can both After the Hangover and I Am Hutterite be successful books? Absolutely, but probably not with the same audience. In order to be successful, each book must find the readers who hear the writer's voice as authentic to them. The other half of having a voice is finding an audience to listen to it.

I've learned three things from these examples and quotes:
1. A natural voice comes out of who you are. A bitterly cynical man cannot naturally write in the voice of an innocent child.
2. A writer works hard to polish and clarify her voice. Regardless of the natural voice, eloquence in using it comes from hard work.
3. A voice that seems phony has trouble attracting an audience. Success is more likely to come to a writer who finds readers who like his voice.

Has this topic brought any ideas to your mind? If so, please share them with us.

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