jump to navigation

Voices, Voices, Voices… December 28, 2006

Posted by harmon in Writer's aid.

Possessing numerous voices is okay

“Alas, now I must admit! It was I who stole the volume, bound and cased, from yonder sanctuary!”
For the most part, this little excerpt out of my imagination sounds all right. If you could see the whole picture, the European setting, you would agree that it fits in with the style at hand.
Then what is wrong? Nothing. It just isn’t my usual voice, that’s all.
Imagine sitting down with a book written by Shakespeare. You know his style. You have heard his voice a million times in plays like Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. Yet the words used in this book sounds more like Dan Brown than William Shakespeare. The sudden alteration bewilders you!
In all possibility, there could only be two explanations: You only thought Shakespeare wrote it, but it was really Dan Brown. Or: Shakespeare was experimenting with a new writing style.
Most people would choose the first explanation as the answer. The renowned W.S. could only sound one way, they would think. Mr. Dan Brown mysteriously wrote it under the pen name Shakespeare.
But for those who chose the latter explanation, you were probably right. After all, is it a crime to experiment with other voices besides your own?
Experimenting, any scientist will tell you, is key to revelation. You may claim yourself as a “deep-toned-serious-poetic” sort of fellow, but if you don’t venture into the “humorous-laid-back-romantic-adventurer” setting, how will you know your talents?
Many people have a fear that if they “venture”, they will forget their own voice and start writing like someone else. They convince themselves that writing should be limited to only one style per person. And if ever, in their writing, they inadvertently sound like someone else, they condemn themselves for not knowing who they are.
The fact is, you should never condemn yourself for expressing many voices. A lot of writers wish that they could write in a colorful variety, and you should consider yourself gifted to be able to express more than one voice. Even if that voice sounds nothing like you.
Consider Benjamin Franklin. As a kid he began writing for a newspaper, portraying the voice of an elderly lady.
Now, Ben certainly wasn’t anticipating that posing as an elderly woman would win his recognition as the master of ideas. But he did know that it was the only way for his works to get published, so he did it. And without forgetting who he truly was.
And consider Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick. He spent his entire life searching for the perfect writing voice, only to find that variety was his writing voice. He is now know for his assortment of character.

You need to know where you stand

While bearing many voices is stupendous, there is one thing you need to keep in mind: Know where you stand. You don’t want to be writing a serious article using one voice and all of a sudden start using another. That will make you sound wishy-washy, which isn’t what any good writer wants. You have to hone your talents and assort them appropriately according to the subject matter of what you are writing.
Notice how I present in these first-person descriptions the same point in three different voices:

* Th’ blasted sun is a-shinin’ in my eye and I wanna’ knock it out o’ the sky, it makes me so furious!

* I say, the sun is intensely bright and bothersome today!

* I am mad because the sun is in my eyes.

The first voice allows you to picture a feisty person raised in, perhaps, a back-country community.
The second voice describes a well-educated person of maybe a British or English ancestry.
The third, a common method, used by perhaps a child or a straight-foreword adult.
I would only use these voices in the places where they are at home. An ill-tempered country man would not do to tell about a new perfume coming out mid-summer. On the other hand, he would sound right in a biography or certain novels.

Having many voices besides your own is a good thing. But you must use them in the places where they are needed.


Copyright 2006 by C.S. Harmon. All Rights Reserved.