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Readers: do you believe in 'voice'?

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Showing 1-17 of 17 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Mar 2012 19:16:40 GMT
Voice, being like the finger print of an author.

If someone gave you an excerpt -- let's say 5k of a work in progress by one of your favourite authors -- would you be able to identify whom the voice/style belongs to?

I think it's difficult.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Mar 2012 19:20:06 GMT
gille liath says:
Depends how good, and obviously how distinctive, the writer is. I reckon I'd be able to identify most of my favourites - famous last words I know.

Posted on 10 Mar 2012 19:25:31 GMT
I believe that your favourite writers are good. :-)

But yes, the 'distinctive' plays a massive part and if they stay in the same genre. If they write sci-fi and historical romance it can be tricky.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Mar 2012 19:28:40 GMT
gille liath says:
Ah, well, there's the rub. If you are a genre writer it's obviously going to be difficult to be distinctive. In fact, do genre readers even really want distinctive? The whole point of genre fiction is consistency of product.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Mar 2012 19:31:53 GMT
Gordon Dent says:
I can think of several I'd be able to identify. If you're thinking only of living authors, I think I'd be able to recognize Jim Crace, Jon McGregor, David Lodge, Cormac McCarthy, Michael Moorcock, and probably a few others. Not a long list, I know, but I read very little contemporrary fiction. If dead authors are allowed (unlikely, given the 'work in progress' scenario), then Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, Evelyn Waugh, Carson McCullers and Malcolm Lowry come immediately to mind.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Mar 2012 19:40:10 GMT
Well, okay, then it's got to be something you haven't read by said dead author.

I will admit, that I might have my difficulties with identifying.

Posted on 10 Mar 2012 20:13:03 GMT
I have to say that as a reader of comedy, I believe I would spot my favourite authors from their sense of humour. But then my fave authors are Adams, Pratchett, Fforde... people whose writing is very distinctive.

So I'm saying yes but I'm also saying that I think it would be much easier to do this in some genres than others.



Posted on 11 Mar 2012 00:57:08 GMT
Last edited by the author on 11 Mar 2012 01:01:02 GMT
Isabella says:
I read somewhere that Graham Greene once entered a competition to write a story in the style of Graham Greene. He used a pseudonym and he didn't win... Did he lack 'voice' or were the judges not as clever as they thought?

Posted on 11 Mar 2012 09:16:36 GMT
Last edited by the author on 11 Mar 2012 09:18:09 GMT
Maybe at this occasion the story of others were better? :-)

Or was it a competition of who is closest to his voice? I made an experiment with my 'mentor'. He gave me his log in for a writers' site and he had mine. His style was VERY distinctive and I channelled him perfectly fine; nobody knew it was me posting as him. So successful, that a close friend of both wasn't sure if it was me or him being online.

It's a different thing to channel someone's writing. I couldn't write like him. Not in a million years. But I've been told I've got a strong voice. I doubt people would recognise it, though. I personally could't look at someone's writing and say: yeah, that's Calvino. Not if he uses a different genre, POV, style. And I would almost go that far to say that nobody could.

Posted on 11 Mar 2012 10:31:48 GMT
Isabella says:
You may be right about the Greene competition, Stella. The item was only an anecdote in a longer article, so no details and I couldn't claim to identify more than (maybe) one or two writers successfully. Aren't there experts who claim to be able to decide who wrote something by analysing grammar, vocabulary and punctuation? 'Lost works' are the subject of fierce debate when they're discovered, all in the interest of scholarship, of course, the money and fame are irrelevant. ;)

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Mar 2012 13:32:18 GMT
Last edited by the author on 11 Mar 2012 13:38:26 GMT
"He used a pseudonym and he didn't win"

True; he came third. If I remember, the competition was run in his later years, when his style - inevitably - was winding down. Greene was said to have been highly amused.

Some authors are more identifiable than others. Give readers a page torn out at random from Joyce, Beckett, Cormac McCarthy, Vladimir Nabokov or John Updike, and most will be able to tell you who wrote it. That, perhaps, is a mark of success: the harder the writer is to parody or imitate, the greater they are.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Mar 2012 13:40:58 GMT
Oh yes, there a specialists who analyse writing. It was a bit easier back in the days, since people could be identified by their handwriting; these days it's much more difficult. You need to look for patterns, which can be similar to other writers. Especially those who have attended creative writing courses and often have been freed of their voice.

Posted on 12 Mar 2012 09:17:46 GMT
There is only one true voice, and that's Tom Jones!

Posted on 12 Mar 2012 09:46:23 GMT
If you want to go that way, I'd say David Bowie.

Posted on 12 Mar 2012 18:22:15 GMT
Frank Mundo says:
I once won a Write Like Raymond Chandler contest from Barnes and Noble. Chandler definitely had a unique voice at the time and it's easy to recognize now. What's interesting is that he was a genre writer whose work is now included on the lists of classics -- as are some of the films made from his books.

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Mar 2012 20:43:26 GMT
Last edited by the author on 12 Mar 2012 20:45:27 GMT
monica says:
This looks like the only post suggesting that prose style is not the same thing as 'voice'. They're not the same, not to me, anyway. Voice to me is individual, perhaps unique to one protagonist in one novel, whereas style can be fairly readily imitated, though this is the reverse of Stella's example. I've recently read one of those very few novels where a person is made real mainly through the voice the author chose for the narrator; style can't convey the depth of character that voice can, though if the writer has a good ear it can get partway there. If I am aware of the style for much of the book, my attention's been drawn to the author; if I notice voice, I'm beginning to think of a character as a real person or to have been somewhat sucked into the world that the author's created.

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Mar 2012 21:51:07 GMT
Last edited by the author on 12 Mar 2012 21:53:06 GMT
Yes! Yes! Yes!
You hit the nail on the head. Voice is something you can't teach, you can learn style, but voice is different. Though, voice is also style. Either a person has it or not. And it can be strong in each genre, every book the author writes.

Funny enough if I love a book, when it grabs me, flows, speaks to me, I will say, I like this voice. I think voice makes a book vibrant, and, as you said, makes characters come to life.

Maybe it's what agents/editors mean by: I'm looking for voice. I think it's what we all look for, somehow. Characters we voluntarily spend time with, care for. All because of voice; theirs, given by the author.
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Discussion in:  fiction discussion forum
Participants:  9
Total posts:  17
Initial post:  10 Mar 2012
Latest post:  12 Mar 2012

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