Friday, January 11, 2008

Voice Over


Under the Awning,
Frederick C. Frieseke,
oil on canvas, 1916.

I was leaning on the counter having a most pleasant conversation with a local bookseller about many things, including Stone Child -- which she had read -- when , in the middle of our gab 'n giggle, she said, "Lillie sounds a lot like you."

After the usual expressions of mutual esteem, I went away to contemplate her comment.

Every now and then, I roll out her statement like a ball of yarn, and proceed to nose it about, to paw and poke at it, sniff and wonder if it's alive or dead.

Should I conclude that my "voice" permeates, not only my writing, but my casual conversation?

And is that a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

A "strong voice" is one thing, but does it also suggest something solid, set, and same?

A lack of the versatility?

Do readers become bored with a certain style of expression?

Was her comment based merely on the implied veracity of the story's same-sex POV, the first person effect?

Or on a vague recollection of my former activities?

Or does her comment suggest that Lillie incorporates characteristics of the dreaded Mary Sue?

Divan reflections this dull day.

41 comments:

StarvingWriteNow said...

I think it's a good thing. If your "voice" didn't come through, it wouldn't sound like you, right? And that might turn some readers off because they would be going to your stories wanting/expecting that voice. I think as long as you are varying your characters and dialogue then your readers wouldn't come off feeling like "same old, same old".

Does this make sense? I feel like I'm not making sense today.

PS: my word verification on this comment is SRLYBUT. Hmmm... Is it possible to have a surly butt?

Bernita said...

Thank you, Starving. You do make sense.
"surly butt" - a kickass phrase,, imo!

BernardL said...

A "strong voice" is one thing, but does it also suggest something solid, set, and same?

I hope so. :)

The beauty of a rocky coastline with wave after wave from the sea crashing against it never changes either.

Jaye Wells said...

Oh, the writing mind. It turns every casual compliment and turns it into existential crisis.

Demon Hunter said...

I think that a little of each of us comes through in our writing, and in your case, that's a very good thing, Bernita! :*)

Savannah Jordan said...

If you are in your writing, as much as your writing is in you, Bernita, sign me up for pre-order!

Your voice and your characters are not married one to the other. What snippets I've read, Bernita, your characters are succinct in themselves and do not bleed over into each other.

Josephine Damian said...

I think we all need to walk a fine line between voice and author intrusion. If all my characters sounded like obnoxious New Yorkers, that would not make for an interesting book.

I've completed two projects, and had one person say it was as if two different people wrote them - which made me happy - and wonder if i had some kind of split personality! lol

Gabriele C. said...

Your voice is strong and individual. One could recognise your blog posts and your writing snippets out of context. I think it's a good thing.

I have a distinct writing voice, but my blogging voice is different. It's one of the reasons I keep a snippet blog for my writing examples because I don't want readers to judge from the more academic tone of my blogposts.

Ric said...

Your voice comes across as a reflection of you, lightly distorted by the faults in the mirror.
Lillie is someone I could enjoy a cup of tea with, drink myself silly with, and would dearly love to have watching my back in the alley.

I know the same is true of the author.

so what's the problem?

Bernita said...

Bernard, I assume you are a faithful reader of certain kinds of voice.

So true, Jaye. And even when you know you're lint-picking, it's hard to stop.

I agree, my Demon, our writing can't help but reflect our experience and observations.
One just hopes it's not the bland parts that come through.

Thank you, Savannah.
"characters are succinct in themselves and do not bleed over into each other."
That is something I worry about.Constantly.

"wonder if i had some kind of split personality"
Ah, you're doing it too, Josephine.
~soothingly~~
Just means you're versatile, and can suit the voice to the topic.

Bernita said...

You have a strong, individual voice. Gabriele. One very suitable to your narratives.
I'm glad you think it's a good thing.

Ello said...

I can only say it was a strong compliment - partly because I adore Lillie, but also because Lillie is a strong woman, and you portray that in every way. It is a wonderful voice you provide Lillie and I hope you would never change that. But I have no doubt that just as the other characters have a different feel to them from Lillie, that this would not at all be indicative of a repetitiveness of writing that you might be implying. Not at all, your voice is what makes your characters alive, and that is not same old same old. Hope I made sense.

Aine said...

As the non-writer in the bunch, I'll add my 2 cents (for what it's worth). A strong (i.e. consistent) voice is exactly what I want as a reader. When I find an author who I like to read, I want to be able to look forward to anything they write because I know I will like and relate to that voice. The greats have it-- think Stephen King-- his fans don't even doubt that they will get a "Stephen King" experience each time he writes a new book. That's why fans buy everything he writes.

The hard part (I think) for writers is to realize that they can't please everyone. They need to have the confidence to put forth their best voice consistently and they will gather readers if it resonates with enough other people.

Anyway-- just my 2 cents...

Charles Gramlich said...

I suspect she was making said comment because of similarity of character. Independence, quick wit, etc. Don't we all put ourselves quite a bit into our characters?

sex scenes at starbucks said...

You know, I've realized over the past five years (I'm a bit slow) that there are certain themes I want to explore in my writing. Family. Fatherhood. People we should hate but love. Siblings. Travel. The drive to discipline.

These topics influence my voice and I don't always love it. It's something I've just had to accept. We are who we are, Bernita, and if Lillie is brilliant--and from what little I've seen of her, she is--it's because you are.

Travis Erwin said...

There is always a bit of ourselves in our characters and I think most readers want to put even more in. They assume our material is somewhat biographical in nature so I think they are looking for these similarities.

Overall I say it is a good thing when a reader can relate your fictional character to real live breathing people, even when it is yourself.

Wavemancali said...

"Do readers become bored with a certain style of expression?"

I think that is just the opposite really. Readers stick with an author that has the style of expression that speaks to them.

It's the reader that falls into the danger of missing great writing by not exploring outside their comfort zone.

I'm a fantasy/sci-fi fanatic myself, but I'll read outside my genre when I want a change.

Bernita said...

Dearest Ric...

And darling Ellen...

Aine, you reassure me. As for your two cents, writers crave input from readers.Writers sometimes have tunnel vision, readers generally do not.

Yes, we do, Charles.
But I don't think of Lillie as a super-model of myself.
It makes me uneasy to think she might come across that way.

Bernita said...

I suppose our interests, our values do drive our protagonists and affects our choice of their actions, and therefore our "voice."
SS, while disclaiming the quality, thank you.

Bernita said...

That's very well put, Travis, especially the point about readers reading more than is there.

You reinforce what Aine said, Wavemancali.Thank you.It's good to know.

Dave F. said...

Writing yourself into the story is a mixed blessing. On one hand, you can easily give the character a real voice and dialog. Not to mention make her believable. On the other hand, you can bore the crap out of the reader if your character doesn't evolve or change in some way.

At some point the character is going to act different - - be "badder" than you or be "gooder" than you. That's when an author has to be careful to let the character grow. Even Matlock and Jessica Fletcher grow as characters in each episode. They are two of the most constant characters I know.

I think this is where "male ennui" novels come from. The authors are really writing their life and its not interesting.

I can't imagine that you fall into that trap. It seemed obvious to me after reading the excerpts on this blog and "Stone Child" that Lillie takes her basic personality from you. She (Lillie) is a strong, self-assured person with set views on right and wrong. She makes a good character. Those elements of your personality do come across in the blog. I never believe that an author has done all the things they write about. After all, men wrote "Lady Chatterly's Lover" and "Lolita" and we know that they were not those characters and never had the chance to be those characters.

I can just see you as the big, muscular overprotective detective Johnny.
wink, wink

Carla said...

It was probably a compliment, perhaps she perceived that you and the character share intelligence, competence, quickness of wit, etc.
What about asking her "Why do you say that?" next time you see her?

SzélsőFa said...

I think a solid voice is a sure sign of a good writing. I think readers like to attach a certain voice/style to certain writers.
There's more credibility to writings that come from direct experience, be it physical or spiritual.

But there must be a fine line between being consistent (as Aine said) and being boring.

Bernita said...

Dave, without patting myself on the back, I could never write a main character that was TSTL.
I. Just. Couldn't. Produce that type of heroine. One dim at times ,certainly, but not one that dumb or helpless. It would offend my inner self.

"I can just see you as the big, muscular overprotective detective Johnny."
~plaintively~
You just couldn't resist, could you?

Bernita said...

She meant it as a compliment, Carla, and I did ask her. She explained it partly in terms of my previous occupation.
But I began to turn it over like a rock and wonder if I dug myself into one of the standard writers's pits.

That is very well put, Szelsofa.
I'm just fussing about the lines.

Sam said...

I'd take it as a compliment!
And like Jaye said - it's funny how the writer wants to analyze every comment about his/her work - Maybe writers and psychologists have lots in common?

Dave F. said...

If I didn't think you'd get a chuckle over that last statement, I wouldn't have written it.

I've watched shows and movies with TSTL characters and given serious thought about writing that type of character. I've deliberately dumbed down characters just to see how the story works out. Deliberately made them the fool to the villain, the sucker to the rube.

I analyze everything I see. I am a slave to science and logic. There are times when I don't want that introspection in a character when I want him or her to be nothing but action and emotion. I never act out of emotion. Worse yet, I see patterns and parallels to activities and solve problems that way. There are characters that I don't want to have look at the evidence before them and see the pattern, see the links, or to use a cliche - connect the dots.

At a conference some years ago, a young lady just out of college asked "How do they create color radar" and I answered without much effort, "They send out colored radar and get the image back." Well, she really took offense at that and I had to face a grand hissy fit that went on for a few minutes. Now when I'm confronted like that, I tend to shut up and hide. I'm not very brave sometimes.
This went on for until another scientist took the gal aside and explained that the Radar beam goes out as several different frequencies and the receiver understands what frequencies apply to rain, heavy rain and snow - - hence the different "color" or frequency of the Radar beam's reflection creates the color image. Long way to go to say that color is frequency in both cases.
So I got nailed for seeing what I thought was obvious. Now the young lady was not dumb. Her brain just didn't work the same way as mine.

Sometimes, I just dumb down the character and make them go through three or four steps to reach their decision. It's not TSTL, its more like just observant enough not to die.

Your Lillie solves problems from an entirely different place than I (or most of my characters) do. She is strong, decisive, moral and is influenced by emotion. That type of character fascinates me. That character proceeds with certainty, most of my characters proceed analytically trying to disprove the latest theory.

Kate Thornton said...

That ball of yarn has a lot of raveled threads, Bernita - of course, you dissect every off-hand comment, every percieved criticism, every brilliant observation - but you know in your heart of hearts that your writing is fine, your characters (yes, even Lillie) individual and your own strong voice gives each of them life. Without your voice, the readers would become bored and restless - it is you - coming through the characters - that gives the work its spark.

As to Mary Sue - well, she's a nice girl, but not one of yours!

Bernita said...

We do that, Sam. Maybe because we fear praise may damn us.

Hmmm,hmmm, Dave. Lots to think about there.
I would not say though that Lillie doesn't apply analytics to problems. Sometimes her mental methods are much like your colour radar.

"- but you know in your heart of hearts that your writing is fine,"
No, Kate, I don't "know" - I am uncertain. I hope.

Voice gives writing its "spark," it's identity.
What an excellent way of putting it! I have never thought of voice in quite that fashion. Thank you.

The Anti-Wife said...

I think it was a lovely compliment to you Bernita, and well deserved.

raine said...

I'd consider it a compliment if anyone said Lillie sounded like me. But then, I love Lillie...

I understand your concern, and could imagine myself examining the remark over and over too, lol.
You are never "set" nor "same", Bernita. Your voice is strong and capable and quite unique--just like Lillie.

moonrat said...

i honestly think readers prefer voice more than versatility. i know it would seem hard to quantify that, but i speak from a) my likes as a reader, and b) sales records (from the editorial persepctive) of books by authors with a really characteristic approach versus writers with flexible/versatile approaches. i guess it's a little sad, because it means you pigeon hole yourself with your first book. hmm.

Robyn said...

I'd say you and Lillie do share a couple of characteristics- the strength, the wit. But I have never caught a Mary Sue vibe from any of your stories.

BTW, dear, I'm blogging again. Address should be in my profile.

Bernita said...

Thank you, AW!

Raine, thank you for that.
I have this pathological fear of boring people.

That is entirely interesting, Moondear, and may partly explain the cult that grows around certain writers, regardless of genre.

"I have never caught a Mary Sue vibe from any of your stories."
Robyn,you have no idea how relieved that makes me.
And how relieved I am that you have found time/energy to blog again!
That is lovely news. I have missed your voice.

December/Stacia said...

I agree. It's a good thing. Of course Lillie sounds a bit like you. That doesn't make her a Mary Sue. (I am totally going to blog about this, remind me.)

A lot of Barbara Michaels heroines have the same sort of outlook; certainly they have much the same voice. That's one of the appealing things. As Szelsofa said, readers want to know what they're getting. They like a voice, they want to stay with it.

writtenwyrdd said...

OH Bernita! If Lillie is a Mary Sue, I want you as my BFF. Seriously, our personalities likely infuse our characters, especially the ones we either create first or treasure the most. If no one can tell, or if it doesn't make a damn worth of difference to readers, who cares anyhow if it's a Mary Sue?

writtenwyrdd said...

BTW, the word veri (I kid you not!) is ASMERP. Get it? A SMEERP!!!

Lisa said...

I adore Lillie and I confessed in a recent blog post that I generally can't help but project my impressions about a main character onto the author, even though I feel weird when people do it to me. I don't think it's possible for a writer to not incorporate and then amplify or play down or tweak certain personal characteristics into a main character. Your writing voice is absolutely beautiful, Lillie is so intelligent, independent, wry, moral and likable that I wouldn't give it a second thought.

On an unrelated note, your reference to the "divan" threw me into a nostalgic spell. My grandmother (whose parents were from England) was the only person I had ever heard use that word until today. Thank you for that...

Bernita said...

December, pleasepleaseplease do blog on the subject! Your take will be instructive,as usual, (besides fun).

Written, you know how it is.
One reads something critical about writers and the writing process, about authorial intrusions into a main character, tries to apply the standards to one's own writing, tries to marshall pro-and-con "evidence," and works oneself into a mild omygoddoIdothat tizzy.
Lillie or not, happy to be considered, even in humour, as a BFF!
Smeerp? Makes one wonder about the blogger gremlins, don't it?

Lisa. Thank you.Very much.
Thank you all very much. You have mollified my fit by your common sense.
I suppose my fear of a common writing error shrieks novice as loudly as any incipient error does.
I shall damn the torpedoes and let the cards fall as they will.

~the "divan" threw me into a nostalgic spell~
That's a sweet thing to read, Lisa.
Probably the word choice reflects my collections of earlier British writers, Sayers, Allingham, Christie, Oppenheim, Kipling, etc.

Kate Thornton said...

Bernita - Allingham and Kipling, now there's a match! Margery & Rudyard, elegant prose in rhyme, maybe, with exotic locales.

Even your offhand observations are great jumping-off places. Ithink you've given me an idea for a story...

PS wrod verification: dgwbb as in doggone web

Bernita said...

"you've given me an idea for a story..."
Kate, that is so nice.
A Good Thing!