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Before I got into writing, I was very interested in visual arts. When I took drawing in college, especially life drawing, it used to frustrate me when teachers would look at my drawing and say, “Don't copy the model!” It made me want to scream, “Then what the hell is she sitting there for, if I'm not supposed to copy her!” I finally said, thankfully calmly, “Okay, if I'm not copying her, what am I doing?”

“You're making a drawing,” the teacher said. “A pleasing arrangement of lines and shapes.”

Finally, a goal! I won't say I always achieved it, but at least I knew what I was supposed to be doing.

In writing, one of my goals is to achieve control of my voice. I can achieve a distinctive voice for some of my characters, but I don't have as broad a range of voice as I would wish. Snarky is easier to do than nice, somehow. I wonder why that is? -)

A writer I really admire whose works illustrates perfect control of voice is S.J. Rozan. She writes mysteries with two detectives, Lydia Chin and Bill Smith. Lydia is young, female, and first generation Chinese American. Bill is older, male, and white. Rozan is, I think Jewish (I'm guessing based solely on her real name, which is Shira Judith Rosan), and except for growing up and living in New York City, she doesn't seem to have much in common with either Bill or Lydia, background-wise, but she nails the voice for both of them. Rozan alternates POV characters not chapter by chapter but book by book. The first Bill and Lydia book was China Trade, which is narrated in first person by Lydia. The next book, Concourse is also first person, but it's told by Bill. I think there are more Lydia books that Bill books, but only slightly.

The books are all good mysteries, and they all have a strong sense of place (some have to do with buildings, because Rozan was an architect), but it's the voice that stands out for me. I don't think I'm alone in that feeling because the series started in 1995, and it looks to me like they're all still in print. I would take that track record any day.

So, what writers do you think have the best range for voice— not just writing with a strong voice but being able to do different voices?

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( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 6th, 2010 02:24 am (UTC)
“You're making a drawing,” the teacher said. “A pleasing arrangement of lines and shapes.”

Piffle. The model can be there, and I'd draw a tic-tac-toe board. It is, after all, a pleasing arrangement of lines and shapes.
Aug. 6th, 2010 02:25 am (UTC)
Oh, the drawing is supposed to be OF the model, but you're not supposed to let reality push you around. Sort of like spec fic.

p.s. I thought I was the only one who still said piffle!
Aug. 6th, 2010 02:51 am (UTC)
I guess the days of the realism of the Renaissance is past.

Oh, I write 'piffle', but I say another term that starts with bull.
Aug. 6th, 2010 01:35 pm (UTC)
I am shocked! -)
Aug. 6th, 2010 12:59 pm (UTC)
Loved the comparison between writing and drawing, even though I can't even draw a simple single line.
Aug. 6th, 2010 01:35 pm (UTC)
Another comparison I like to make between the two illustrates how much your brain is like a muscle. When I was drawing, if I looked out the window or happened on a scene, I would immediately frame it, mentally, in terms of composition, thinking of how I could use it in a picture. When I stopped drawing, I stopped having those mental flashes.

But, now that I write, when I hear about a situation-- a new invention, a weird family configuration, almost anything-- I think about it in terms of how could I use that in a story. I find that the more I write, the more ideas I get.

Mental exercise is good for you, too!
Aug. 6th, 2010 01:35 pm (UTC)
If you want range . . . not necessarily serious, Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum. her cast of characters are VERY different. I think Bradley, the author of Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, his MC Flavia has a great voice and the cast of characters with her are good. That's all I got on a Friday morning. :)
Aug. 6th, 2010 01:36 pm (UTC)
Not bad at all for Friday! I know and like Janet Evanovich, but I never heard of Bradley; will have to check him/her out.
Aug. 6th, 2010 01:45 pm (UTC)
Him. He just started writing cozies. The protag is an 11 year old chemistry phenom. She is VERY precocious.
Aug. 6th, 2010 01:50 pm (UTC)
Interesting! Are they YA/MG books?
Aug. 6th, 2010 01:57 pm (UTC)
Neither. They are in the fiction/literature section. I suppose because the themes are adult . . . the murder thing. But then there was Nancy Drew . . . who knows how they decided to plug her in the Adult area.
Aug. 6th, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC)
You know, I think in Nancy Drew the mystery was rarely a murder; t seems to me it was stuff like embezzlers and fraud and stuff like that.

It's rare to find an author who can sell a very young protagonist in an "adult" book. Good for him!
Aug. 6th, 2010 01:49 pm (UTC)
Voice is one of those things I still just DO. The whole organic writing thing is how I started, but as the years have gone by, I've learned the WHY behind the HOW, and it has made my writing more consistent. Instead of flashes of, "Nailed it!" I can pretty must just nail it.

Voice--I don't know that I'll ever be able to truly know the why behind the how. I've been told my characters all have distinct voices, and that my BEST is when I'm writing young men around the 20 age range, whether in contemporary or fantasy settings.
Aug. 6th, 2010 01:51 pm (UTC)
>my BEST is when I'm writing young men around the 20 age range

Hmm. 20-year-old guys? Makes you wonder if there's anything in the whole reincarnation thing! --)
Aug. 6th, 2010 01:53 pm (UTC)
I swear, Karen, in my head I often feel like a 20-something male. I've been told by friends and family alike that I have the mental mindset of a teenage boy.
Aug. 6th, 2010 01:59 pm (UTC)
LOL! I am rolling over here.

You did a great job with Finder. I have not read anything else. OH!!! I'm emailing you right now.
Aug. 6th, 2010 02:01 pm (UTC)
darn, i forgot to log in again. the LOL! I'm emailing you is from me.
Aug. 6th, 2010 02:03 pm (UTC)
I kinda figured. :-P
Aug. 6th, 2010 02:03 pm (UTC)
Well, when I hear "teenage boy," I think of someone who two things on his mind and one of them is food. -)
Aug. 6th, 2010 02:05 pm (UTC)
You mean three things--the other THING being boobs! Two of them!

Aug. 6th, 2010 03:08 pm (UTC)
Voice is so difficult. It is definitely impressive when an author can nail varied voices. I think Tolkein was one of the best at that, but he was a linguist at heart. Robert Jordan was also quite good at it.
Aug. 6th, 2010 03:16 pm (UTC)
It is difficult! As bogwitch64 points out, when you read your own work and know you got the voice right, it feels really, really good.

Aug. 6th, 2010 03:51 pm (UTC)
An interesting question.

I like Tolkein's voices, especially for the 'minor' characters, like the goblins and trolls in The Hobbit.

I wonder though, how much of the voice is also down to the reader. After all, we make up our own image of what a character looks like (albeit with a little help from the author).
Aug. 6th, 2010 03:56 pm (UTC)
That's true! If the voice is too familiar-- sounds just like a crabby uncle you don't like, for example-- no way will you want to read that book.

I don't think the writer can do much about that except to accept that there is nothing every single person likes.
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )

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