Sunday, March 6, 2011

Voice and Style - The Same Thing?

My husband read my last completed novel Assassination of a Dignitary.  He said it was so unique to what I had written prior that it was almost like I didn't write it.  Immediately, I panicked.  I mean as a writer, we want to be identified by our readers.  We want them to know they're reading one of our novels by our distinct voice.
      But as we continued discussing what he meant, he referred to the feel, tone, and pacing of that specific book.  He said that he knew from the certain way I'd phrase things that I had written it.  What he actually referred to was the "style" of that book.  Relieved by this, I knew I had a silly grin spread across my face.  This was a terrific thing.  It wasn't that I'm still discovering who I am as a writer – finding my “voice”.  My characters were standing out separate from one another; they weren’t recycled from previous works. 
      I took pause to think over the novels I’ve written.  The Madison Knight series, in which I have written three novels to date, were connected by series characters, therefore, the “feel” of those books, the style, was similar due to this.  My next novels Restitution and  Assassination of Dignitary both had new characters, resulting in a different style – feeling or tone -  specific to each of them.  And now, I’m working on a 7th work, a thriller novel Eleven, new characters again, a new narrative voice, a unique style.
      Thinking over novels I’ve read by the same novelists, I realized they have a style specific to each book based on the character(s) driving the story.  Another key factor is POV.  For example if you’re using close-third, the “feel” or style is going to be different than if you used first.
      The meditation sent me searching for a good definition on what exactly “voice” and “style” are when it comes to fictional works.  Here’s what I found.


Definition of Voice:
“Voice has two meanings as it concerns creative writers:
  • Voice is the author's style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author's attitude, personality, and character; or
  • Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of a first-person narrator; a persona. Because voice has so much to do with the reader's experience of a work of literature, it is one of the most important elements of a piece of writing.”
“Voice on the other hand is a little harder to define and not something you should actively change. A writer's voice is the little things that make it possible after reading enough of someone's writing to recognize it even when the styles are completely different. This could be something subtle or something major but what it isn't is something that the writer has spent time thinking about. In fact in many ways it can't be. Just as your own voice doesn't sound natural if you attempt change your physical voice. You may be able to mimic someone with some credibility but it won't be natural and it will never be as good. Voice is at its most basic who you are on the paper.”

“Voice the quality of being authentic, of sounding like the unique writer and person you are. Have you ever received a letter from a friend that reads as if she were there, talking to you? You want your writing to have that quality. Your voice is distinct from the story you are telling. Voice is an essential ingredient of great writing. Your voice is what makes your writing different from all other writers, even when writing on the same topic.
Your writer's voice will be heard over and above every tweak you make to change it. You see, voice has nothing to do with skill. It isn't about following directions, and obeying rules of grammar, but rather about being who you really are. In writing that is a very difficult thing to hide.”
Definition of Style:
“Of the two, style is the one that is most important to understand because it is something that not only can you change from piece to piece, but something you should change. Style is the stories feel, the point of view, the tone, and all the other conscious decisions. The reason that it is important to adjust style is because a style which works perfectly in a serious piece of fiction, will be completely wrong in a humorous essay. It can also allow you to make many stories interesting that could otherwise be quite bland.”

“As you begin to write more, you may see patterns or style emerging. The way that you put words together, however, your style, is what makes your story original.”
“Style on the other hand, develops your relationship with your audience. The choice of words you use to express your voice is reflected in your writing style. If you want to use heavy terminology to let your audience see how smart you are, you might want to make sure those reading your writing will appreciate the mental stimulation. “
“Style, to a fiction writer, is basically the way you write, as opposed to what you write about (though the two things are definitely linked). It results from things like word choice, tone, and syntax. It's the voice readers "hear" when they read your work.  Naturally your writing style will change depending on your subject matter and the point of view. However, when we talk about developing your writing style, we mean the voice that is uniquely yours. That voice will change as your writing develops, of course, but like personality, the foundation is already there.  To an editor, on the other hand, style refers to the mechanics of writing, i.e., grammar and punctuation. These rules change depending on what field you're in.”
So, if you find yourself wondering if you’ve “lost” yourself, your voice, don’t.  If your work is guided by your characters, advancement of their growth and forward movement of the plot, you have nothing to worry about.  Your voice and style should work together, and the more you write, the more your own voice will be strengthened and defined.
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Resources quoted in no specific order: