Thursday 14th January 2021
I’ve been thinking a lot about voice this week.
There was a time when I worried a lot about this as a writer. Just what is voice? What was my authorial voice? As time has progressed, I’m not sure I have a clear definition, but I understand a little more of how I write.
However, what concerns me here, isn’t those writing tics I have as an author, but the specific language I use when writing a story (be it novel or short).
As I’ve got older, the books I love are ones thick with language. They are like creamy chocolate or a warm duvet. I find myself sinking into such books, relishing every word.
The problem is that I also believe in accessibility. Take the language too high and it becomes more about the words on the page than the characters. For me there’s a balancing point.
I still love great books that are a bit more pedestrian in their language. The first and foremost job of any book is to tell a story. I’ve always believed that the books that outlast their authors are those that tell great stories with a universal message in the clearest possible way. It’s why I think Terry Pratchett will probably become the go to read for those wanting to learn about the late 20th century. They are funny, almost inconsequential stories, but packed with metaphor and social commentary of the age.
So in short: I love rich language but not too rich that it overpowers the story. I want a narrator that sings the story to me, not one that goes off and starts doing vocal gymnastics for no point other than to show off.
I’m listening to The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue at the moment and it has this. So to have books like Nevernight. The voice for Black as Knight came into my head after reading Wolf Hall. The short story I want to write based on my dream the other night, has a strong sense of voice. Yet, many of the urban fantasy’s I read have much more pedestrian language. I still love my Dresdens and Aaaronvitch’s but I think I need to dive back into them to see what it is about them that makes them work for me. I think both are 1st person and have a strong sense of character so that’s probably where I’m getting my voice fix from.
And that’s what I think this current novel is missing. I started it in 3rd person limited and yet…something felt off with it. It might just be me. The world is an unsettled place right now and that impacts me creatively. I’ve moved that POV to 1st person, but I’m not sure I’ve found a strong voice for them yet. They’re like vanilla ice cream – perfectly serviceable, yet a little bland for my taste.
And maybe I shouldn’t worry but it’s these little thoughts that end up being exercises in craft. After worries about theme last year, I ended up reading a load on the subject and I think it resulted in me massively improving my skills as a writer. If I can do some work on voice, perhaps that’s another tool I can add to my writer’s toolbox?
But I already think that as much as structure and plot play an important part of my preparations ahead of writing, so too does voice and it’ll screw me over if I forget it.
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