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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Keeping Your Voice

   
Author Topic: Keeping Your Voice
Reziac
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In another post someone linked to this interview, I can't seem to find the post again but this is what I've been ranting, er, talking about here and elsewhere, that when you edit, don't chop out all the distinctiveness, dialect, whatever else makes your voice YOURS:

from http://forum.writersofthefuture.com/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=658

quote:

Worst myth (or “truth”) is that slow writing and thinking that everything has to be rewritten to death. Horrid and kills more writers than anyone can imagine. Every writer is different, no question, and every writer finds a way to produce fiction, but the human creative brain won’t allow your own voice and personality through with too many rewrites, because to the critical brain, that’s the dull part and it gets taken out. Why is your own voice the dull part? Because you hear it in your head every day, so it has to be dull, when actually that voice that seems dull to you will be what makes your story different and alive. -- Dean Wesley Smith

Something I'm seeing a lot of everywhere budding writers collect to crit:

Many less-experienced writers are at the stage where they know the rules, but not how to break them, and their resulting line edits (to remove dialect, casual phrasing, etc) turn a story into something generic and lifeless. When you edit, it's critically important to retain the "voice" of both the writer and the characters. Developing an ear for that can make or break your own writing, too.

So don't look at writing just in terms of how well it follows the rules -- anyone can learn to do that. It's more important to be aware of how well it breaks the rules, because that's where small gems of characterization often grow. Removing them to please the rules would be like sanding down a bas relief because everyone knows walls should be flat.

In short, if you understand how you've "broken" a rule, and you've been internally consistent with that, don't let anyone talk you out of doing it.

[This message has been edited by Reziac (edited January 10, 2011).]


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Lissa
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Wow...I needed to hear the above. THANKS!

Lis


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J. N. Khoury
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Amen and amen.

On the same topic, see Les Edgarton's Finding Your Voice.


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LDWriter2
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I knew who the quote was from from the first half of the first sentence.

It's easy to get into a habit of revising, revising, and even revising etc.. Since my most success stories have been revised no more than three times and none of my stories with more revising has even come close, with a possible exception of one, I decided three times is my limit. On another writing site I've done as many as ten on some stories, a bunch had seven or eight versions.

I like to think I kept my voice even in the ones with ten versions but ....


And one problem is that editors don't seem to like what I consider to be part of my voice. I add a couple of things here and there about the MC or a secondary character. I've seen pros do that but I keep being told I'm adding something that doesn't advance the story. As I said I've read published stories where the writer did that and I liked it. And I mean more than one writer.

I decided I couldn't wait until I became a pro then write the way I want to just like pros seem to be able to do. But not sure when that will happen.


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Reziac
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I hadn't heard of Edgerton's book, but here's a review; it sounds useful:

http://barbarawklaser.mysterynovelist.com/2005/03/06/finding-your-voice-by-les-edgerton/

From one of the Amazon reviews (linked from the above):

quote:
Many a non-published writer constructs barriers to getting published because of an ailment he tags as a "writerly" style. Such writing, he says, stems from trying to write like someone else, or by adhering to some "acceptable standard." All this expenditure of energy and effort not only kills creativity, it drowns out the writer's own voice.

I just skimmed the table of contents and I'm like, well, yeah, and yeah, and obviously, and of course!! But I've done a lot of line-editing for other folks' fiction, and it actively BUGS me if an edit changes, negates, or dilutes the author's voice (assuming they have one -- some don't). That voice is as much one of the characters as are any of the people invented for the manuscript.


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KayTi
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That's a Dean Wesley Smith quote and it's very true, over-editing will kill the part of you that makes your writing different and interesting, because as everyone will tell you "every story's already been told." (sigh.)

But it's true that the good part of stories comes from how each author tells their own versions.

I've been taking this feedback to heart myself, and standing up for my "voice" more and more as I've been able to put my finger on what it is that makes my words different from some other person's words.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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One of the things I've heard Dean recommend when you think your story has been edited to death, is something I've also recommended on this forum.

If it's lost your voice or been edited to death in other ways, put everything (notes, critiques, drafts, etc) aside and start all over again with a blank screen.

Write the story that's in your head, using all the things you've learned through all the feedback and all the editing, but write it fresh and from scratch.

You stand a much better chance of telling it in your own voice, and of applying all the things you've learned if you begin it again cold, than you will with any amount of over-editing.


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MartinV
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I needed that.
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redux
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I think it is important to distinguish between "copy editing" and "content editing." The former simply points out incorrect word usages, awkward sentence structures, and other grammatical mistakes. The latter focuses on PoV, level of characterization, among other structures of a story such as pacing. Content editing, if too heavy handed, can potentially destroy a writer's unique style.
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Reziac
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Yep, the "blank screen" is a good way to get your voice back but leave behind all the tired old baggage. I don't generally have the 'edited to death' issue, but I've done the "blank screen" method a few times when some scene just didn't go right and needed a new perspective.

It can go the other way, too. The other day I did that with a fragment I wasn't entirely pleased with, and found I'd got it closer to right the first time... the "fresh start" actually pointed up somewhere I should NOT take it.

(And meanwhile the POV character is muttering under his breath, "I told you so...")


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BenM
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Occasionally it seems only a series of minor edits are necessary, and yet you might still worry that you've chopped out the voice in the prose. I tend to suffer from this a bit when I edit because editing an issue in sentence 5 of a paragraph unbalances something in sentence 1, but I'm not looking at sentence 1 when I edit and it all comes unstuck.

I've found something that works for me here which I recommend regularly in critiques when I find prose that seems to have been edited to death: Read the section aloud. Read it as if you're reading it to a friend (so not just mechanistically voicing the words). It might sound tedious, but if your prose is really working, you'll know it, and it's a good feeling when you've read something aloud and then think wow, I wrote that?, and not in a bad way

[This message has been edited by BenM (edited January 12, 2011).]


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Crystal Stevens
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In one of my many writing books I read that you should record your story while reading it aloud. Play back the recording and see where your voice has added words that weren't there or skipped over words that are. Or where you hesitated because you had to work out what you wrote or stumbled through something else. Sometimes your mind will do this without you even being aware of it due to natural speech patterns... your own personal "voice"... and this can help give your story a more natural feel.
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Osiris
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quote:

I've found something that works for me here which I recommend regularly in critiques when I find prose that seems to have been edited to death: Read the section aloud.

I second that. I read each story out loud multiple times before I declare it finished and try to sell it. Aside from what you and Crystal mentioned, it also highlights the role of punctuation.

In the past, I've received critiques that said I should remove this or that comma, then when I read the story out loud later, I realize my instinct to have the comma there was correct in the first place.

Reading a long sentence aloud can really show you that punctuation is needed to make it readable. Here is my favorite example from Lynne Truss's book, The Zero-Tolerance Approach to Punctuation:

quote:

Assuming a sentence rises into the air with the initial capital letter and lands with soft-ish bump at the full stop, the humble comma can keep the sentence aloft all right, like this, UP, for hours if necessary, UP, like this, UP, sort-of bouncing, and then falling down, and then UP it goes again, assuming you enough additional things to say, although in the end you may run out of ideas and then you have to roll along the ground with no commas at all until some sort of surface resistance takes over and you run out of steam anyway and then eventually with the help of three dots...you stop.

That sentence is 111 words long. Read it aloud as is, then try reading it as if all the commas weren't there. I only get about halfway before I have to stop for breath. The commas let you take little breaths along the way. I think sometimes one can forget that story-telling began as a spoken art, and that the punctuation is there to indicate how something should be read aloud.

[This message has been edited by Osiris (edited January 13, 2011).]


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andersonmcdonald
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I third that.
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Lissa
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I am loving this thread! It has been very enlightening~

Lis


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LDWriter2
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Reading out loud doesn't seem to work for me. Maybe I read too fast or some such.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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LDWriter2, have someone else read your stuff out loud to you.
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Reziac
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Reading aloud doesn't work for me either -- couple reasons:

1) My internal and external reading voices have never met. They don't seem to be even the same species.

2) Reading aloud, or being read to, is a surefire way to make my attention wander away. Doesn't matter what it is, my brain just turns off after half a page tops... Usually more like half a sentence.

I've always been a silent reader, even when I was a little kid, and I wonder if that's the root of it. To me, reading is not a vocal experience. However, I have no trouble hearing my characters' dialog as if they're right there talking to my face.

Now, if it's someone who is genuinely a storyteller, that I can listen to, so long as I can see the teller. Just hearing 'em ... same as being read to, off to never-never-land goes my brain. (Needless to say, old-time radio has a tough time keeping my attention as well.)

Conversely, the printed word can distract me from just about anything. End of the world? Sorry, I gotta read this cereal box!


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LDWriter2
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Reziac

Speaking of reading cereal boxes You ever see that episode of Outer Limits or was it The Twilight Zone?


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LDWriter2
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But finding someone to read a story to me might not be easy...if I even think of it.


Of course it wouldn't have to be the whole thing...I think.



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LDWriter2
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But (Yeah, another one---two cheeks and all that---figured I'll say that before someone else.) speaking of losing our voice with over revising, Very recently I recalled a comment one person here a-bouts said about one of my stories she critiqued. The first section wasn't me according to her comments. I didn't find my voice until third or fifth page. It hit me that that story had been revised at least three times already. I had posted it on another writing site. I forget for sure if it was just three times or more but I made quite a few changes. Maybe that is what happened to my voice in the first few pages.

Or I was trying too hard to write something editors were suppose to want, or I just got carried away with an idea and as usual stumbled.


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Reziac
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Don't recall any such OL or TZ episodes?? Oh, and if you use tentacles instead of hands or cheeks, you can have as many as you want.

I think where reading aloud is likely useful is when you're unsure of some quirk of grammar, or of the naturalness of your dialog to that character. Or sometimes for catching bizarre editing artifacts: a MS once came to me with a sentence that started,

Properly gripped the pen, ...

I immediately wanted to know who this new "Properly" character was. To this day it still cracks me up. (Okay, I'm easily amused )

What I do at this point, is if a revision grinds against my reading ear, I put it back how it was, under the theory that it was probably right the first time. But if the revision is good, it will read along without dripping any sand into my brainbox.

Something that might be useful both as writers and as critters and editors (of our own and others' works): a section for "fix this @&*%#$! sentence!" -- post a paragraph with something that's giving you fits, and everyone practices fixing it, but with the specific goal of preserving the voice of the surrounding prose.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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People have started topics in this area (Open Discussions About Writing) in which they've asked for help with single sentences.

And topics in which they've asked for help in brainstorming ideas, and coming up with titles, and so on and so forth. No need for a separate area for that.


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Reziac
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Ah, okay, hadn't seen anything but beginnings, so had got the notion that's all we wrote. <g>

Back to the nominal topic, the query about poetry over yonder brought me to this excellent essay -- the subject being poetry but every bit as applicable to prose:

http://www.cowboypoetry.com/finelines.htm

quote:
I am, in fact, in favor of fine lines and wrinkles. ...those two characteristics ... are the very qualities that make poetry poetry, that set it apart from and above mere verse, rhymes, and doggerel.

By "fine lines," I mean a collection of words and sounds strung together in an arrangement that is as near perfect as humankind is capable of making. Lines that say something so well, that sound so good, it is simply unthinkable to change a single syllable, never mind a word.

By "wrinkles," I mean unexpected turns of phrase, unusual usages, warped verbiage, twisted expressions that surprise and delight and make the best poems memorable, even unforgettable.


The article goes on to remind of us of Mark Twain's immortal words,

quote:
"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."


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LDWriter2
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quote:

Don't recall any such OL or TZ episodes?? Oh, and if you use tentacles instead of hands or cheeks, you can have as many as you want.

I can't recall which one but it was an anthology show. A bank clerk liked to read, he made a comment about his wife removing the cereal boxes from the table in the morning because he would read them. He's in the vault reading during his lunch hour when some type of Nuke-Neutron bomb goes off. He is the only survivor, about the time he starts to feel depressed, he remembers the city's library.

But as to the second comment, who would want to sit on tentacles all the time?


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LDWriter2
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quote:

Ah, okay, hadn't seen anything but beginnings,

You probably know this by now but she is right(which isn't surprising).

I have done that a time or two. But most of the time it is just openings so you may have to go way down to find one with just a sentence or three.


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Reziac
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Another article which speaks to the idea of keeping your voice -- writing to YOUR readers, not to EVERY reader:

Holly Lisle on "Why Everyone Shouldn't Like You"
http://hollylisle.com/writing-integrity-why-everyone-shouldnt-like/

I absolutely agree. Absofreakinlutely.


[edited to fix dead link]

[ January 05, 2013, 08:03 PM: Message edited by: Reziac ]

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rich
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quote:
I can't recall which one but it was an anthology show. A bank clerk liked to read, he made a comment about his wife removing the cereal boxes from the table in the morning because he would read them. He's in the vault reading during his lunch hour when some type of Nuke-Neutron bomb goes off. He is the only survivor, about the time he starts to feel depressed, he remembers the city's library.

It was TZ, and starred Burgess Meredith. Ended with a neat little TZ twist.


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Reziac
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Burgess Meredith... a great favourite!! Thanks, I will definitely have to scrounge it up and watch it.


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Utahute72
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Rich, that was a Twilight Zone show titled, "Time Enough At Last". One of my favorites from that series.
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