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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Voice vs Style

   
Author Topic: Voice vs Style
Scot
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This past weekend I went to a writers' conference. Some agents there noted, 'If you've got voice, you're golden.' This seemed to contrast other advice I've read, that says trying for a distinctive style is usually unhelpful. So I figure I must not understand the difference between "voice" and "style".

Any clarifications y'all could offer?

Thx!

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extrinsic
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Composition arts and sciences, in the concrete and tangible mien, label format and organization features style. Voice is in the more abstract feature groups. Voice includes grammar and rhetorical mannerism, artistic flair for language, an overall voice for a composition and individual persona voices therewithin.

Literary agents, for example, note a generic sameness to composition voices, prose voices resultant from too rigid and formal a language use consistent with a standard and global grammar: impersonal. A distinctive voice is a personal, perhaps regional, perhaps colloquial use of a language, to include emotional and moral charge. Though not the everyday conversational language colloquialisms so common and tired, and threadbare tritenesses used off the cuff. Example: The dolls and guys hung out at the mall.

The impersonal voice, with few if any derivation from features of convention, is the standard language instructed in schools and is based upon the simpler principles of a language's accepted, published grammar. The base principles of which are ease of reading, ease of communication generally, and ease of comprehension by speakers, writers, hearers, and readers. The standard impersonal language convention is emotionless and monodimensional, only the literal meaning depth is meant or should be taken.

Personal language conventions are, by definition, individualized to persons. Personal language is emotional, charged, opinionated with regard to moral charge, multidimensional and layered with depths both literal and figurative, is intense and concise though not rushed or forced or obtuse or dense, entails individual variants and selections from a language's more complex grammar principles and an exception set guided by rhetorical principles. Yet among that complexity gamut a composition is no less accessible by speakers, writers, hearers, and readers. Actually, from artful voice methods, intent and meaning are meant to be more personally and broadly accessible in less word count quantity.

At least that latter is meant when language is construed to be more accessible and personal than that for which impersonal composition strives. Language, too, can be construed to exclude access, by stratification intents, by unintended speakers, writers, hearers, and readers.

More to the point, though, artful language includes as broad an audience target as possible, is no less of reading and comprehension ease, through a means and end of most possible audience participation in and appeal of a narrative. Voice is a persuasive conversation between composer and audience -- a social function.

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Scot
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extrinsic, thanks for your time in elaborating on that. I'm afraid that I don't feel much enlightened though. I see you saying style = format and organization, while voice = most everything else. Is that right? That seems to almost frame style as a sub-set of voice.

Maybe a concrete example will help (me). Here's an excerpt from Brandon Sanderson's The Alloy of Law.

quote:
Delightful, Waxillium thought. Well, Survivorists weren’t too bad. Some of them, at least. He stood up. Wayne was still playing with that round. “Would anyone else like some tea?”

“No,” Steris said with a wave of her hand, looking through her document.

“Yes, please,” Marasi said softly.

Waxillium crossed the room to the tea stand.

“Those are very nice bookshelves,” Wayne said. “Wish I had shelves like those. My, my, my. And . . . we’re in.”

Waxillium turned. The three guests had glanced at the shelves, and as they turned away, Wayne had started burning bendalloy and thrown up a speed bubble.

The bubble was about five feet across, including only Wayne and Waxillium, and once Wayne had it up he couldn’t move it. Years of familiarity let Waxillium discern the boundary of the bubble, which was marked by a faint wavering of the air. For

There's several character voices, which are their own thing of course, but the narrator voice is what's on point. If the story isn't told in 1st person, then narrator should be clear, concise, discreet, rather than a distinctive voice. Shouldn't it/she/he? So if an agent says that strong voice is golden, isn't she saying that 1st person POV is the best way to sell stories?

[ April 28, 2016, 10:34 AM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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This is much more than a 13-line excerpt. Sorry.
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extrinsic
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Style, in the organization sense, does overlap with voice. Style, though, in that sense excludes dramatic structure unless a layout entails a rhetorical function related to story movement.

Voice, too, in the organization sense, overlaps with style in how matters like punctuation signal aspects of persona characterization, includes narrator, as well as implied writer and real writer.

Voice and style's distinctions are in some cases divisible and in other cases are indivisible. How any given writer shapes the divisibles and indivisibles varies and is one of many methods to originally and creatively approach writing.

These above have a semblance of platitudes and superficial value. However, that's because they are generalizations of complex features and writing topics, some that track into airy realms.

Third person voice, for example, the person's strength is signaled objectivity, of less bias appearance than first person. Likewise, past tense is more objective than present tense. Both are largely voice considerations though present style influences. Paragraph breaks, section, chapter, and book breaks, even word, phrase, clause, and sentence breaks, these are organization features, style in the grammar organization sense, and matters that might be divisible for a writer's selection, though are near invisible and therefore indivisible for readers.

One area where those influences of voice, in particular, is if person and tense vary within a composition. The general principle is consistency in all things; however, auxiliary persons and tenses may accompany a main person and tense. Speech and thought, for example, in one person and tense, auxiliary maybe, and narration in the main person and tense. White space divisions, like paragraph breaks, subtly signal the transitions. Style, in other words, applied rhetorically to shape voice.

However, always a however, third person's customary voice is impersonal, at least from habits learned at school. Prose's desired third person voices, though, exhorts personal expression. That feature most of all distinguishes voice from style and genre from genre: genre in the sense of composition type.

Four categories of composition type and intent include: performance, creative writing, informal composition; formal composition: research and report, term paper; inquiry and outcome, analytical composition; and argumentation, opinion persuasion composition. The first is the one that most exhorts personal expression; the latter three exhort impersonal expression, though with subtle degrees of personal expression for maximum audience appeal.

They each orient on an axis of objectivity to subjectivity extremes and variations. Strong attitude and emotional expression suited to a composition's topic and intent at the subjectivity end of the axis is a literary agent, critic, publisher, and reader preference for prose. If not the general place on that axis. The other three genre types, little to no attitude or emotional expression is indicated and preferred, in other words, maximum objectivity suited to the topic and intent.

Rhetoric labels several appeals as matters for composition considerations: ethos, appeals of credibility; logos, appeals of logic; and pathos, appeals of emotion. Which appeal's emphasis suits a topic, intent, and genre type answers their preference order exhortations. For example, prose exhorts pathos foremost, logos secondmost, ethos thirdmost. However, a successful writer's ethos sells books from being recognized as an appealing and revenue-producing writer.

If a graphic representation of those appeals were designed, it would be a tangled knot of a pathway and transitions between the appeal emphases. Or compared to a four-dimensional map of nonlinear, human thought processes. Outwardly messy though more effectual than a linear thought process, re: computer. Compositions appear linear in word order sequence though are that tangled knot of substance.

Anyway, style influences voice, though voice at its pinnacle of expression is personal, emotional, attitudinal, and messy.

Take third person narration. Ostensibly, a narrator's voice is the voice of impersonal, unemotional, attitudeless, and logically and credibly structured; more often than not, for prose, it is. Best practice, it should not.

A number of considerations then come into play for whether or not to use an impersonal narrator or a personal narrator. Not? Then a character persona must be the strongest attitude and emotion holder. Then, is that character an observer or an observed persona? Plus, is that character influential to story movement?

Narrator:
Bland or lively?
Credible or incredible?
Logical or irrational?
Impersonal or personal?
Attitude or not?
Emotional or unemotional?
Observer or observed?
Influential or noninfluential?

Nor are those matters one or the other; rather, they are variable along axes between extremes and not per se fixed at any given point, for best appeal effect. And many more discrete matters. A near if not infinite number of discrete factors presents. First person, too, uses the same narrator features, only condenses the several narrator-character roles into the one persona, albeit, a perhaps implied or real writer included or excluded.

Simplified, though, strength and clarity of attitude and emotion expressed about a moral human condition topic and intent are voice's kernel features, for prose anyway. Other genre types -- well, subtler personal voice expression, if suited to the topic and intent. However, a greater fraction of prose compositions entail little or no lively voices. Such is the life of writing.

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Kolona
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quote:
'If you've got voice, you're golden.'
In the words of the Hollywood vernacular, this is the “Wow!” factor, something you either have or you don’t. It’s not something you can consciously “try” for—else the result will be quite the opposite—it’s something you develop over time or, for the blessed few, something wonderfully inherent.
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Meredith
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For the most obvious examples of voice look up some recent YA novels. Kiersten White's Paranormalcy comes to mind.
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Pyre Dynasty
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I have a hard time believing anything is inherent. There is nothing to be done about it if it is. I would prefer the list of things I can't change (particularly where it comes to an artform) to be very small. Voice is definitely not on that list. Focused practice, attention to the flow and sound of words. The study of people and how they react to certain things. You can train your voice just like a singer would.

The Hollywood types say things like "you either have it or you don't," because they don't have time or patience to teach someone who doesn't have it to get it. There are people who have their inborn talent as their guiding star. If that works for them great. They don't take to failure well though because it means their talent failed and they can do nothing about it.

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Grumpy old guy
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First, I'd like a consensus of what anyone means when they say 'voice'; extrinsic's commentary notwithstanding.

For me, 'voice' is the ability of the writer to create a moment of oratory, character or narrator based, that transcends the mundane and transports the reader to another plane of 'understanding'. 'Voice' is my ability to make you cry, and understand why you are crying, without me explaining anything. I say the words and you understand the meaning and all their nuance without explanation.

Phil.

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Scot
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When I started this thread, I would have said 'voice' is the ability to portray a character with a distinctive idiom.

The question arose from a panel of agents reading first-pages of manuscripts. One was a hard-boiled detective, with some rather witty one-liners. If I remember right, that was when the agent's started chiming in about 'voice'.

But to me that just seems like practice/mastery of a specific style of speaking, definitely something that can be developed and honed. So under the umbrella of 'style' I'd say there are many characters' voices that can be rendered.

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extrinsic
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Idiom is certainly part of voice, in terms of regional or in-group distinct expressions. "Expression" is a distinction of note for voice.

General composition coursework generally divides the several indivisible parts of composition into grammar, content and organization, and expression. Creative composition coursework uses a different term set for the same criteria: grammar, style (layout and format criteria), rhetoric; contexture and structure; and voice.

For me, other than closely related idiom, attitude toward a topic or subject is a larger part of voice for creative composition. Creative writing consensuses generally label that attitude "tone." Tone is no less a complex topic than voice; and tone is a subset of voice.

I'm sure most everyone has heard something to the effect of "Don't take that tone with your mother," your aunt, your sibling, me, or etc. The tone addressed is some kind of irony, sarcasm, or both -- and emotionally and morally charged.

Put the two criteria together, attitude and irony, that's tone and a key for at least the expression mannerism flair of voice.

Other matters of voice include narrative point of view; that is, an overall composition's expression mode, who's who and what type is the narrator (formal, informal; sophisticated, naive; impersonal, personal; reliable, unreliable; overt, covert; attitudinal, neutral; detached, omniscient; etc); grammatical person, and grammatical mood. And within each category a near infinite number of discrete variations and criteria; degree of selective omniscience, for one example.

However, voice is a matter of individual discretion in its applications and its meanings. To each their own according to each's decisions and aptitudes.

Although -- the two former above criteria, tone's attitude and idiom, can compass much of voice's appeals. Those two are foremost matters for voice considerations.

Two points for caution, though, consistency, even in inconsistency, and timely, judicious application are best practices. Like all things creative composition, a flavor of tone and idiom content for emphasis' sake will work more appeal magic than overboard expression, most times; sometimes hyperbolic attitude expression is as artful and appeals as much, too, certainly more artful and appealing than an emotionally flat voice for each and all dramatic personas. A little yab a dab a do will do yah. Mostly.

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Scot
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I like that summary: a point-of-view with an attitude (season to taste). Thx, extrinsic!
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extrinsic
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You're welcome, Scot.

Note that the strongest attitude holder, the strongest voice, of a narrative is the dramatic persona with whom readers are most likely to align, narrator or agonist. Loathsome personas notwithstood.

quote:
Originally posted by Pyre Dynasty:
I have a hard time believing anything is inherent. There is nothing to be done about it if it is. I would prefer the list of things I can't change (particularly where it comes to an artform) to be very small. Voice is definitely not on that list. Focused practice, attention to the flow and sound of words. The study of people and how they react to certain things. You can train your voice just like a singer would.

The Hollywood types say things like "you either have it or you don't," because they don't have time or patience to teach someone who doesn't have it to get it. There are people who have their inborn talent as their guiding star. If that works for them great. They don't take to failure well though because it means their talent failed and they can do nothing about it.

Much of the creative writing field generally believes creative writing instruction and learning are limited in their capacities to teach and learn. The university writing workshop paradigm also most feels that pressure and negative criticism.

I affirm both positions, that much can and cannot be taught and learned. My general position is that more can be taught and learned than is currently practiced, much more.

Of the point of this thread's discussion, general voice aspects can be taught and learned based upon the criteria of "tone." Folk are culturally adjusted to never "make a scene." Putting scenes on the creative page are exactly what a story needs. Put it on the page, for cripes' sake. Be angry, sad, joyful, forlorn, ironic, sarcastic, approving, disapproving, woebegone, afraid; put it on the page. Make a scene.

If every workshop started with some such mantra, or permission to get emotionally carried away, that would express prose's need for a viewpoint or point of view with an attitude. Better late than never --

By the power invested in me by the Muse, I hereby grant permission for all writers anywhere and anytime to make a scene on the page.

The other matter I wish I'd been taught and learned in my first creative writing class long ago or since is complication-conflict's (motivations and stakes) central role for prose.

Those two, to me, tone and complication-conflict, are the two most crucial aspects of prose composition that ought should must and can be taught and learned, and are not, to a timely and adequate degree.

I most certainly second that "The Hollywood types say things like 'you either have it or you don't,' because they don't have time or patience to teach someone who doesn't have it to get it. There are people who have their inborn talent as their guiding star. If that works for them great. They don't take to failure well though because it means their talent failed and they can do nothing about it." (Pyre Dynasty)

Not just "Hollywood types" neither. University creative writing instructors to a degree too. Though, for me, somehow they managed to instill a self-learning track, through exposure to this and that that they only surveyed scantily and without emphasis focus on any old crucial thing. Motivations and stakes and tone, first and foremost.

[ June 15, 2016, 02:21 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Scot
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I take the bestown permission with gratitude and humility, and will now go revise my manuscript again. [Smile]
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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Scot:
I take the bestown permission with gratitude and humility, and will now go revise my manuscript again. [Smile]

Same here. Someday, I'll do better about working emotional reactions into my early drafts. For some reason, I tend to have trouble with that at present.
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Pyre Dynasty
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
By the power invested in me by the Muse, I hereby grant permission for all writers anywhere and anytime to make a scene on the page.

Invested is a really nice touch there. This needs some fancy certificate style framing.

My definition of voice would be a language signature. If you can read two unrelated blocks of text and recognize them as being from the same source then that is a distinct voice. Whether that voice is enjoyable for readers is a different matter. Being able to make distinctive voices for different characters is a great skill, but there are plenty of writers who run a whole carreer off their single author voice. (I guess it's like the difference between character actors and personality actors.)

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extrinsic
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Thank you, Scot, Disgruntled Peony, and Pyre Dynasty.

"Invested," at first, was a typographic glitch. I thought to change it to more conventional vested, though realized the way it is assigned permission responsibility to the Muse. Humbly, not me.

The Hatrack treehouse just now morphed a gift shop counter where writers may order a personalized, framed Make a Scene permission certificate.

code:
÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷<0>÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷
÷ ÷
÷ ÷
÷ By the power invested in [Writer Name] by the Muse, ÷
÷ Permission is hereby granted for ÷
÷ ÷
÷ [Writer Name] ÷
÷ ÷
÷ To make a scene on the page. ÷
÷ ÷
÷ Hatrack River Writers Workshop ÷
÷ Rights reserved ÷
÷ ÷
÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷÷


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Scot
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Impressive - most impressive. [Smile]
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walexander
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A little late to the party.

Voice to me goes back to an old post when I first came here.

As much as the world imagines writers as these closet xenophobes -- they can't be. A writer needs to be out in the world exploring, watching and listening. There is nothing like firsthand knowledge of subject matter. Yes, there can be long hours of research from other sources: books, videos, the internet. A writer has to kind of be child-like when approaching all the experiences characters go through if said writer has never experienced anything like it.

A strong voice can be developed by being a good observer and/or participant of life. Especially for vibrant dialog.

Example. Friend of mine shows up at my house semi-drunk, eye and cheek swollen, and blood from a small cut below it, and he asks me if I have that CD player he was going to borrow. I go what the heck, what happened, get him a paper towel to hold onto the cut and have him sit down. He responds, “Oh nothing, you got that CD player?” I say yes, but again ask what happened to his eye. Him “Fell” Me “Fell where?” Him “Somewhere” Me “Where somewhere?” Him “Outside the bar.” Me “Why the H’ll didn’t you go back into the bar?” Him “I needed to get the CD player.”

Needless to say the story gets even crazier. A writer has to steal from life because somethings are just to crazy to imagine.

The hardest thing a writer has to do is find the right words to convey an emotion. If it was easy then anyone could do it. Think of it like how you try and explain to someone what a good friend or loved one who just passed away meant to you. All the words crash between your heart and your mind and pile up in your throat, but you struggle anyways to finds the right words, because anything less would not convey what you are truly feeling. Think of all the care you will give that thought before putting it to words.

My2cents

W.

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Scot:
This past weekend I went to a writers' conference. Some agents there noted, 'If you've got voice, you're golden.' This seemed to contrast other advice I've read, that says trying for a distinctive style is usually unhelpful. So I figure I must not understand the difference between "voice" and "style".

Any clarifications y'all could offer?

Thx!

Style is the brushstrokes, layout, and other technical bits you use.

Voice is what the viewer sees in what you painted, which may be influenced by the style.

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Scot
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That's a great analogy - concise and memorable. Thx!
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