Monday, December 14, 2009

What a Voice!

I've got Jennifer Hudson's Christmas special on as I'm writing this. What a Voice!! She truly sings like an angel.

Of course, I giggled when I thought "What a Voice!". As writers, we worry about a slightly different kind of voice.

Voice is a difficult thing to teach. It's easier to find examples and read them aloud, then contrast different styles. The kids in my class tend to pick up the different kinds of voice rather quickly when I read short snippets of a variety of texts.

They all have their preferences. Most kids this year prefer short, snappy sentences with sly humour mixed in. However, lyrical sentences can grab them as well. When we studied opening lines last year, the class favourite was from Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451.

"It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history."

They loved the contrast of the sentence lengths, the imagery. They all decided these short lines spoke to them. They loved the voice, and referred back to the image several times over the year.

A strong voice can be compelling. It's something we all strive for.

Whose voice do you most admire? Do you find it difficult to identify your own voice?

On a side note, thanks to Elizabeth Spann Craig at Mystery Writing is Murder for the Blogging Writer Award. Check out the award she designed herself on the sidebar! Thanks as well to Kristi Faith over at RAW (Random Acts of Writing) for awarding me the One Lovely Blog Award, also on the sidebar. These are fantastic writer friends. If you haven't checked out their sites, do yourself a favour & pop on over!

42 comments:

  1. Man, I missed Jennifer Hudson's special but I caught the last song and it was truly beautiful. She is a talent.

    I worry about the voice in my work. I think my current novel has a strong voice but I need to get a stronger voice in my completed ms. I love that the kids are paying attention to such things. Great post!

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  2. Karen - she sure is!

    I think I've gotten better at voice since I've been writing. It's definitely something that we need to pay attention to.

    Thanks :)

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  3. Voice is such an elusive beast. I think it's one of those things that can be developed over time. I can't think of a "voice" I like right this very second...

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  4. Elana - it's tough to come up with one on the spot, isn't it? It's one of those "I know it when I see it/hear it" kind of things :)

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  5. Congratulations on the awards Jemi!

    Voice is one attribute that I haven't mastered. I know how I want to sound, but getting there is the problem. Then I find there are some keys I never knew my voice could inhibit!

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  6. Thanks, Tamika :)

    Voice isn't easy! I think it takes a lot of time and practice because it's elusive, not easy to identify.

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  7. I don't think voice is something you strive for, rather it's something that's just you. It's why your writing will naturally be different from other people's, why your work won't sound right if you're imitating someone else.

    However, from all I hear, voice comes with practice. Write more, and your voice will come. (Or so they say. I'm waiting to see how that turns out... :)

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  8. Simon - LOL :)

    I agree - voice comes with practice and experience. I think we all have unique voices, but they can certainly do with refinement!

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  9. I LOVE Neil Gaiman's voice. He can break all the rules and it just. works.

    My voice is developing. I find my voice is strongest in inner dialogue and snark.

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  10. Jenny - I think a strong voice can overcome a lot. Besides, Gaiman is enough of an expert to know how to break the rules and make it work :)

    I'm not surprised your voice has a snarky edge! Your blog carries it off so well. LOVE it :)

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  11. Voice is such a tricky thing. Sometimes I wonder where the heck my own disappears to, but other times I look back at what I wrote and wonder, 'wow, was that really me?'

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  12. Julie - it's such a great feeling when we can hear our own voices! When mine disappears, it's usually because I'm telling, not showing... at least, I think it is :)

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  13. Someones already said Gaiman, so I'm going to have to go with his one time writing partner Terry Pratchett. Pratchett's books can suck you into a plot far more complex that his abuse of the pun would lead you to believe.

    My use of voice isn;t great, I'm slowly getting to the satge where I can maintain one voice for a whole story, but it's still hit and miss.

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  14. Oh, Jennifer Hudson DOES sing like an angel!

    I really love Meg Cabot's voice. No matter what age group she's writing, her humor stands out.

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  15. Ray Bradbury is a good choice. I have found my voice, it came with practice and confidence.

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  16. Jemi, voice was one of those things in school that was difficult for me to grasp. You sound like an awesome teacher--it would have been best for my teacher at the time to read different examples of voice.

    I like storytelling voices. I love MC Beaton's mysteries (I feel like I'm being read a story.) I use a storytelling voice, myself.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  17. Andrew - I loved Terry Pratchett when I was a teen - haven't read his stuff in years. I'll definitely have to pick up one of his books again :)

    I'm sure your voice is fine! Being aware of it is so important.

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  18. Jennifer - Cabot's another good choice - there are lots out there aren't there?

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  19. Elizabeth B - yes! I agree completely - you can't have voice without confidence :)

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  20. Elizabeth SC - Thank you!

    I haven't read Beaton yet - I'll have to remedy that soon. You have a lovely storytelling voice. I'm in the middle of Pretty is as Pretty Dies right now. LOVE Myrtle :)

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  21. Congrats on the awards. Also, thanks for the post.

    For me, voice comes first and the story second. Sometimes I will have a story churning around in my head for years until the right character comes along with a voice so magical I finally have the medium to tell the tale.

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  22. Thanks for the reminder about Hudson. I've been meaning to see if she had a Christmas album.

    I don't know that I have a signature voice. I seem to adjust, depending on who the protagonist is.

    Helen
    Straight From Hel

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  23. I vote for Gavin Maxwell. Few writers have voices that are so imbued with humanity and love - which is all the more interesting because his biographers describe his relationships with all the people in his life as difficult. I go to him when I need to feel like a writer again.

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  24. Cat - I love that description! I've never approached a story like that. You're right, voice is so critical!

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  25. Helen - Yes, Hudson sings so well :)

    Each different type of writing involves so many different skills, I'm not surprised you find your voice varies a bit as well.

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  26. DWC - I don't know Maxwell's work, but it sounds worth checking out.

    He's not the first writer I've heard that about. I find it bizarre how many writers who write so beautifully are really cranky or miserable people. Very strange.

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  27. I think each of us to some extent have our own voice. It's finding the strength in that voice that sometimes eludes us.

    Take for example co-authors. They are both striving to tell a story with two different voices entwined. Is it on equal footing or does one voice come across stronger than the other? Thanks! You made me ponder on this for a moment.

    As for coming up with one, not so easy. I think John Steinbeck had his own distinctive voice. You can't come across his name and not remember 'The Grapes of Wrath' or 'Of Mine and Men'. (Hugs)Indigo

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  28. Indigo - good point on the co-authors. I hadn't really thought about their different voices before. Next time I read a co-authored book, I'll be much more aware. It'll be fun to see if I can spot the 2 voices. :)

    Steinbeck is a good choice!

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  29. I just finished When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead and LOVED the voice. She captured the voice 12-year-old perfectly. It was just beautifully written, but not overdone at all. Proof that you don't need lots of flowery prose and big words to write well.

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  30. The Bradbury quote is brilliant. I agree, voice is elusive, yet a strong voice is always identifiable. John Irving has an extraordinarily compelling voice. In part I think voice comes with practice and experience. It takes a certain amount of confidence to use language and make it your own

    Congrats on those well-deserved awards, Jemi!

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  31. Lisa & Laura - That sounds great! I'll have to check that one out - sounds like the right age for my classroom :)

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  32. VR - Thank you :)

    I remember vividly reading Farenheit 451 for the 1st time - very powerful images!

    I think you're right about confidence - and it comes from experience and practice :)

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  33. I don't have a signature voice as I have so many characters in my books. I go for the shotgun effect and try to have diverse personalities (but not to diverse). Also, by having so many characters I have a pool of victims to kill from. 11 murders in my first book with many more to come.

    Stephen Tremp

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  34. I struggled with voice. But now that I do character sketches, I don't have the same problems. I think it's because I know my character better - what they'd say and do - so I can write them more truthfully.

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  35. Stephen - that sounds like fun! 11 murders? Wow :)

    I like the idea of so many suspects - many for an interesting read.

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  36. Carolyn - sounds like you've found a great way to create your characters' voices! It's so important to be aware of their inner selves.

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  37. Good post Jemi. Sadly I'm unable to make comment as I've lost my voice completely! I hope to find it again in the new year :)

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  38. Quill - you crack me up - which is obvious proof you haven't lost your voice :)

    Relax & enjoy the holidays!!

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  39. Hi, Jemi! Thanks for being so great about visiting my blog and commenting. I lost the link to your site and couldn't find you for a while. You must have adjusted your profile, 'cause I was able to follow you back this time! yay! ;) I promise to be a more loyal commentor now.

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  40. You're so welcome, Shannon - you have a great blog. It's a fun visit :)

    I didn't think anything had changed in my profile, but you never know - cyberspace can be a never-ending mystery to me!

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  41. Great post! I think voice can be a difficult thing to pin down if it doesn't come naturally. It's like trying to pin down charisma. You just can't always explain why or what it is that works.

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  42. Thanks Calista! Great analogy - it is a tough one to explain, but easy to identify :)

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