Technically correct, but…

JS Wiig

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 23, 2020
Messages
330
Location
SW WY
I’ve been playing music for a long time now, and it’s something that I can impress and enthuse others with. I’ve seen some musicians who are much better than me but their playing seems to be missing something intangible, lacking some measure of (ha! pun intended) flavor and emotional depth.

I feel that about my writing at this point in the journey. I seem to have a decent grasp of the technical aspects of grammar and structure, but lack in depth and color and dimension. Perhaps the elusive qualities we collectively refer to as ‘voice’.

Not sure if these are things I can learn and develop though I fully intend to find out, and wanted to see what you all’s take might be on the matter.

Peace!
 

The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
Staff member
Joined
Nov 10, 2008
Messages
12,991
Location
nearly the New Forest
Interesting point!

Personally, I can't hear/feel those issues in music, but my husband who is very into classical music can, and I'm often left bemused when he's talking about different performances of the same piece and their emotional colour, as they all sound the same to me! However, I can perceive something of the kind in theatre productions, where some actors are saying all the right words** and are putting expression into it, so they're not just blocks of wood, but nonetheless it isn't gelling, whereas other actors are able to bring the characters fully to life -- and some, like Judi Dench, are the characters, not just playing them. There's a depth of perception, of understanding, that goes beyond technique.

I've heard actors talking about reaching inside themselves and drawing on their personal experiences, eg of grief or joy, and while some of that may be luvvie-talk I think there is a kernel of truth to it that also applies to writing. That perhaps is one reason why younger writers aren't always as able to produce good writing -- it isn't their talent which is missing, but a range of experience to call on as to how different people think and act, and how it feels to be in a certain situation. Also, I think empathy is required to become a character -- I recall reading something about Ginger Rogers to the effect that she could only play what she could understand -- and I think it's the same for writing them. When I write, I do try to be each character, so I'm inside his/her head, which certainly helps me,

Anyhow, have others made the same comments about your writing, JSW? If not, perhaps you're doing yourself an injustice. Perhaps ask beta readers what they think.


** and in the right order... ;)
 

JS Wiig

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 23, 2020
Messages
330
Location
SW WY
Anyhow, have others made the same comments about your writing, JSW?
It’s an underlying theme I see in many critiques. Stuff like “well written, just didn’t grab me” and the like.
 

JS Wiig

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 23, 2020
Messages
330
Location
SW WY
Now that I think about it a bit more, maybe that’s something that makes writing easier for some and more difficult for others: the ability and willingness to expose their emotional self and become vulnerable enough to represent that effectively on the page.
 

Biskit

Cat whisperer
Supporter
Joined
Nov 23, 2011
Messages
1,115
Location
Sitting in the sun (between the rain storms)
I've no idea how to achieve "voice" but apparently I do it. Perhaps the more interesting thing is that I apparently have more than one voice. The Biskitetta tells me that I have one that I use for what you might call traditional pseudo-medieval fantasy, one for sci-fi, and then there's the wild and sometimes vulgar one for the urban fantasies. There's also the almost-normal voice on my blog when writing anecdotes about the animals around the farm.

The only thing I can really think of in terms of achieving voice is that I write a lot of 1st POV, and I do tend to get into my character's heads, and into their worlds, and then become them to write what they see and do. (Which is a very odd experience when writing a dead nineteenth century bad-girl reborn into a body in the far future and falling in love with my villain.) I certainly draw on some of the unpleasant things that have happened to me over the years, and the style of the urban fantasies was driven by the fact that was very unhappy at the time and venting my frustrations in the writing. Likewise, one of my current WIP characters is a foul-mouthed, cynical, angry, antisocial misfit, which is hugely cathartic to just let rip and be a grumpy old beast, and try not to grind my teeth as I type.

I'm not sure any of that helps you, but I feel better now. :giggle:
 

Bagpuss

Shipwrecked & comatose - where's the mango juice?
Joined
Jan 9, 2017
Messages
229
There's a Youtube video which you might benefit from watching. It's Stephen Sondheim teaching "Send in the Clowns" to a student. The link is here. Ok, I'm officially bad at writing links. The video is about 4 mins long, it's fairly old, and it only covers the first verse. But it's an example of how you deliver the words can improve the effect on the audience. And bear in mind that the words and her voice stay the same throughout. It's just the performance that improves.

Maybe you could pick a few songs and listen to the lyrics rather than the music. Musicals are generally good for that since the songs in a good musical are an integral part of the overall story. If you ignore the music and look at the words, then that might help you with the depth you're looking for.

In relation to the critiques, I would say: don't get too down. Nobody can write a story that appeals to everybody. It's not possible. The perfect story doesn't exist. Never has, never will. What you want to write about is your "voice". What you want to celebrate, what you want to attack, what you want to say. I don't know what that is. Just ... don't screw it up by over-thinking it. :)
 

alexvss

I don't know no grammar.
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
Messages
376
Location
Northeast Brazil
@JS Wiig
Neil Gaiman's Masterclass® has a chapter about that--Finding Your Voice. Subscription costs $180 and I don't recommend it :p , but I can send the material to you if you want (it would be illegal and immoral to just post it here). Basically, he says that your voice is what "you can't help doing". You'll copy your favorite authors at first, your writing will be derivative; but your voice will eventually come to you.

I'd also recommend a Writing Excuses episode, specifically Mary Robinette Kowal's monologue at the end. She talks about how writers get too focused on craft after making some sales. They also have multiple episodes about voice, including one about finding your own, but I haven't listened to them yet.o_O But do listen. They're super short.
 

Phyrebrat

www.beanwriting.com
Supporter
Joined
Feb 13, 2011
Messages
5,117
Location
In your bedroom wardrobe...
Insert your opinions, wit, random takes, reflective thoughts, snark and all that kind of stuff in your writing - just make sure it doesn’t come across as a polemic or preachy. Depending on your POVs you might also consider splitting your idiosyncratic thoughts to your different characters.

Be vague, subtle, egregious, nuanced; whatever the character might be, but be consistent. Characters can be vague (as in their personality, not their realisation), but narrative/direction has to be clear.
 

JS Wiig

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 23, 2020
Messages
330
Location
SW WY
Characters can be vague (as in their personality, not their realisation), but narrative/direction has to be clear.
An interesting juxtaposition. I feel I’ve made some decent progress clearing up my narrative, perhaps a deeper focus on characterization is in order.
 

DLCroix

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 9, 2020
Messages
245
Well, I want to start by saying that the following are only opinions, but each writer should also ask these questions:
Where is the breaking point, what should differentiate my stories from the rest?
How do I want to approach my stories?
What do I hope the reader thinks of them?

1. This has to do with style.
It is not presumption , because if the first band I played in had specifically something from Dokken, Running Wild and Accept, that is to say no other, and my comics had great influence from Gímenez, and I approached those projects with that aplomb, then why would I have to propose less when it comes to writing? You never have to be afraid of dreaming big, and if someone criticizes you that you are arrogant or something like that, well, so then screw him.
You must be the first to speak clearly to yourself, it is an act of sincerity, but being a self-declaration of intentions also creates a mental box, the brain knows what it has to do from then on, it does not say: "I'm going to write something to see what comes out "as if it were a walk in the country, it will be clear to him that, for example, those who read your stories will know that not even the cat is usually left alive.
Unless you assume that Hemingway, Capote, or Conrad (and I very maliciously suspect that Conan Doyle and Dickens, too) were the kindest and most sympathetic guys on the planet, I think you will go wrong with being honest, correct, or accommodating to the reader. You don't expect that from those who make horror movies, do you?

2. This has to do with attitude.
You don't need to be a metalhead, but it goes that way. No prisoners. Although, on the other hand, you guarantee delivery and sweat. Passion. If you manage to transmit that to the page, you are no longer thinking about whether the story is YA or the damn thing, nor about the show versus tell or some formula, "oh, it worked for that guy", YOU ARE who is telling a story. Here we are talking about personality, not sales, but approaching the way of writing with the market in mind brings you precisely to the other side of the street. This is why it is so important to ask yourself what kind of writer you want to be. Because it is inevitable that some will find your soups overly salted, but only if you like those soups that you make will there be a chance that someone else will like them. It does not work otherwise. :ninja:
 

JS Wiig

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 23, 2020
Messages
330
Location
SW WY
This is why it is so important to ask yourself what kind of writer you want to be.
This is a good point. I suppose I’m still in an experimental phase and trying to figure that out.
 

Wayne Mack

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 12, 2020
Messages
701
Location
Chantilly, Virginia, US
I found the Brandon Sanderson lectures https://www.youtube.com/user/WriteAboutDragons/videos very helpful. He provided a lot of various ideas and concepts that I have tried to incorporate. I listened to the entire year 1 sequence over a period of about two weeks and felt it was a wonderful investment of time. Note: I started listening to the second year (2013), but realized it was largely a repeat. After all, this is a class that starts over each year. As an added bonus, Brandon is an interesting lecturer, so I didn't find the presentations cold or boring.
 

sknox

Member and remember
Joined
Mar 25, 2013
Messages
1,580
Location
Idaho
I get the analogy the OP was going for, but I think it leads down a blind alley. Not to be confused with an alley that can see.

A novel isn't a performance. The real point of comparison would be with the script rather than with the performance of the play. The performer has the luxury of being "on" one day and "off" another day. The novelist gets just the one chance.

As for depth, color, and dimension, that's a tough one. If it's safe to return to the theater for analogy, it's more like the performer who is distinctive, who somehow manages to inhabit a character yet still be recognizably *that* actor. Few achieve that, and even fewer can explain how they manage it.

That's the really despairing aspect to art. Some writers seem to have a voice right out of the gate, while others never really manage it. And, a good many, resonate with some readers but not with others. I wouldn't assume too much about your own writing until you've written multiple stories, had them published, and have got at least some reviews or feedback. While I firmly believe authors must satisfy themselves first, they need readers to give them perspective on their own art. Until you get there, you have to do one of the more difficult things in life: have faith in yourself. You need that in order to get those completed stories out the door and into the big wide world.
 

Dan Jones

A little bit woor, a little bit waay!
Supporter
Joined
Nov 14, 2014
Messages
3,096
Location
Not on the naughty step!
Writing voice is a strange thing, almost like being an impersonator; I have a theory that people who are decent impersonators are good writers of character voice, because they have that implicit ability to mimic. Not everyone has that, and it's not a teachable thing. Mimicry is apparently a result of the ability of someone to process social information; therefore someone who scores more highly in personality traits openness and empathy is more likely to be a better mimic, and (in my hypothesis) write voice better.

I've been told I write voice pretty well, and I think I can write a very wide variety of characters with some competence. I'm quite empathetic, and very open to new ideas and information, so in my data pool of 1 my theory stacks up (though @Venusian Broon would correctly state that I should probably try to expand my datasets to really test it...). But not everyone writes good voice, and not everyone needs to. Hemingway wasn't particularly diverse in writing voice, neither was Heinlein, nor Michael Crichton, and Lovecraft struggled to get past zero, let alone one.

If writing voice is a struggle then focus on other aspects of the writing; the characters don't necessarily have to sing, but they - or at least, their actions - do have to seem plausible.
 

JS Wiig

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 23, 2020
Messages
330
Location
SW WY
@Dan Jones good point about Michael Crichton. He is probably my favorite author, and his writing is so matter-of-fact, but he pulls it off quite well.
 

Margaret Note Spelling

There's always a bigger fish to fry.
Joined
Sep 10, 2019
Messages
311
Location
The Heart of Nowhere
I wonder if it would help to start focusing more on the particular emotion you're communicating in your writing at any one time. Even if it looks like you aren't using any, there's still going to be something there. Nobody can possibly read a word or a sentence, even a long dry passage in a classical novel, without connecting some kind of emotion--a motive--behind it. It's what we're trained to do with other peoples' words every day.

A standard omniscient third-person, on the face of it, may not be communicating anything at all, but in every word choice and construction, you are communicating the author's attitude towards his work. That's what I think many people call voice. Then if you write a non-omniscient, POV third-person, you are beginning to imitate the character's attitude towards his life. That's why personal styles can jump around so much depending on what character or genre you're writing--in every instance, you're communicating a different attitude towards the story, which is designed to affect how the reader feels towards the story.

In many ways, I think of it as similar to using different camera techniques in a movie; shaky-cam, where they let the camera itself bump around while a character is, say, running away from something, communicates stress and anxiety and tension all by itself. Meanwhile, quick cuts, close flashes of a scene, with fewer shots where you can see everything going on, communicate a greater sense of chaos and speed. You're guiding the emotions of the viewer. With the words and emotion you decide to use for your narrative, no matter whether it's in a character's perspective or omniscient narrator, you are trying to guide your readers' emotions in exactly the same way.

I can write The bomb descended, slow at first and then picking up speed, rocketing towards the houses, in a pretty technically correct, omniscient way. I can also write The bomb released--first, a lazy little package flipping over and over--but then, as it picked up speed, hurtling down towards the houses, the streets, the women laying out dinner, the children laughing on the sidewalk, the dogs that heard it coming and barked a mad, vain warning, which, while not openly expressing much emotion either, starts guiding you towards what to focus on and what to think about, the picture you want the reader to imagine as the bomb heads towards a bunch of innocent people, and--more subtly than It was horrible! Panic and death everywhere, as the bomb fell on the streets!--start to lead the reader towards feeling the emotions they ought to feel, as they watch it happen. It's in the choice of words and colloquy, the choice of sentence construction and pacing, and those choices you make, according to what goals you have, are what determine your unique voice at any given time.

Because once you've gotten to a point where your writing is "technically correct," then no choice you ever make is going to be bad, and there are still thousands upon thousands of different choices you can now make regarding word selection, pacing, how long you want to focus on an image or a scene, what emotion you're trying to convey and how heavily you want to convey it. The slow tense buildup of shots like you might see in a horror movie right before the jump-scare, or the epic slash-and-yell action of a thriller. You can convey all of that just with a slight alteration of the emotion behind your sentence (in many cases, subtlety comes from what you don't say, but merely hint at). Hair-tearingly complex, yes, but also beautiful, once you realize just how amazing a tool it is for conveying all the tiny little nuances in your head to the reader.
 

sknox

Member and remember
Joined
Mar 25, 2013
Messages
1,580
Location
Idaho
It's probably worth drawing a distinction between author voice and character voice. The latter is how an author has a character speak in dialog, internal or external. Getting characters to each have their own voice is difficult and requires not just good writing but also careful editing.

Author voice is much trickier. It is more a reader thing than a writer thing. That is, readers will say oh, that's Abercrombie. Or King. Or Bradbury. The author themselves may not recognize it or try to cultivate it, but readers recognize it. How does a new author know about their own voice?

I don't think there's an unambiguous and universally applicable answer. I never thought I had a voice--indeed, never even thought about it--until I was in a critique group. I had submitted two or three works. Then I submitted one, a different story, and someone said they recognized Skip's voice in the writing. I was surprised. Voice? What did that even mean? I ought to have asked, but didn't think to do so.

The best I can suggest is that you concentrate on telling the story as best you can, and let others decide what they will about your voice.
 

Similar threads


Top