Finding Your Voice
I don’t talk much. I never have. Sometimes I don’t have anything to say- realizing that I could say, “I don’t know enough about XYZ to have an opinion,” was a great boon to my socially awkward self. Sometimes I do have something to say, but it’s not quite appropriate for the situation. And, most frequently, I have something appropriate to say but can’t get the words out fast enough. For a while, I was losing the ability to string together a coherent spoken sentence, which was seriously weird.
Like a lot of people, my mind moves faster than my mouth, which is what attracted me to writing in the first place. I don’t have to say it fluently the first time; I can edit. In the last five years or so, I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to take thoughts and turn them into words on the page. Well, ‘learning’ might be too strong a word. That implies that I actually sat down and studied. The truth is that, like everything else in life, I just winged it.
But I keep running into a curious little concept that makes no sense to me- the idea of the ‘author’s voice’ and that part of writing includes finding this voice. Okay… I mean, I looked under the couch cushions and everything, but I still have no idea what this means. The style manuals talk about tone, expression, and style, but in my mind, these concepts are genre-specific (very broad) or book-specific (narrow), not author-specific (in the middle). I write in a bunch of different genres and change my style accordingly, and within a genre, each book is distinguishable from the others. Even my regencies- about as write-by-numbers as you can get- read differently from each other. So either this concept doesn’t apply to me, or I’m looking at it from the wrong end (I have all the subtlety of a thrown brick, so it’s entirely possible).
Each genre has different conventions, and uses different language to draw the reader into the story. I’ve been writing a lot of regencies lately, and the syntax is nothing like a contemporary novel. Words, phrases, entire sentences are flipped up, down, and around to get an old-timey feel. The sentences themselves are longer and more complicated; I could probably count on my fingers the number of single-clause sentences in the average regency. They also have a great love of semi-colons, which are useful but less common in contemporary novels.
When writing a regency, I use the language, syntax, and slang common to that genre, because the readers expect it. When I’m writing fantasy, I use as little slang as possible and slightly more contemporary syntax, because it’s easier to read. This can get interesting, though, because I’ll be writing along and a modernism will sneak in when I can’t think of any better way to convey the idea at the moment. Thank goodness for editing.
When writing Hartington Abroad, I found myself tripping over the regency syntax in places. This book is a space opera written in the style of a regency, but unlike its predecessor, The Hartington Inheritance, there’s more action, including a skirmish with some rather aggressive wild animals. This calls for shorter, simpler sentences, completely different from the usual regency construction. While writing the relevant chapters, I found myself slipping out of the genre, and into something more like my usual style when I’m writing fantasy. Regency slang also disappeared from the story for a while, because it can be clunky or too obscure at a time when I wanted the reader turning pages as fast as possible. This seems like a change in authorial voice to me, and necessary for the story.
So, tell me, dear reader, what does the concept of ‘author’s voice’ convey to you? How does it differ from style, tone, or expression? How much of an author’s voice is actually linguistic conventions of a particular genre? Was finding your voice a gradual process, or did you have an epiphany? Has it changed over time (I’ve become slightly less pedantic, but that might not count as a change in voice, per se)? Tell me; I’m dying to know.
Hartington Abroad is now available on Amazon, if you’d like to see the changes in language that gave me so much trouble.
Jeriah Hartington is far from home. Born into a wealthy family, he is now reduced to poverty. In desperation, he signs on to a ship headed for the planet XKF-36. Their mission? To search for colonists who’ve been lost nearly as long as Jeriah has been alive.
Jeriah fully anticipates an adventure as they travel into the unknown wilderness. He never expected to find living people, eager to tell the tale of their sufferings. But their hair-raising account could be the downfall of everyone on the planet, even their rescuers. For a villain lurks within the ship’s crew, and no one can say who he might be.