Advice, Characters, Dialogue, Fiction, Narrative, Tips, Voice, Writing

Whose voice is that?

Yesterday, a friend posted a link on Twitter to an article by Kurt Vonnegut (a fellow native of Indianapolis) titled “How to Write With Style” and in it he gave seven tips to improve your writing. The one that stuck out the most to me was #5 Sound like yourself. He says about writing voice:

The one most vehemently recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago.

Sometimes that voice creeps into my writing—when I’m trying too hard, when I’m pushing to write this scene right now, no matter what.

Vonnegut says:

I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am.

A writer I admire, Frank McCourt, died this past Sunday, and I’ve spent some time this week listening to interviews with him as well as re-reading bits of Angela’s Ashes. He wrote exactly as he spoke. Of course, he wrote memoir, though he was working on a novel, last I heard. I hope it was finished; I’d love to see how he wrote fiction.

To me, it seems easy to write my blog posts in my own voice … though I don’t write it exactly the way I speak. I’m appalled at the grammatical errors I hear come out of my mouth. But I do write the way I think.

[Hmmm … is it normal to speak differently than you think? Tell me you do the same! Please.]

Meryl Streep is one of the actors I admire. She’s praised for her command of the accents she uses for the characters she plays. I have to be a Meryl when I write dialogue. I have to speak for many people, and each has to sound like themselves, but ultimately, it’s my interpretation of their voices. It’s me acting a part.

But it’s my narrative I have to guard. I have to banish that “cultivated Englishman” and let my own “person from Indianapolis” shine through.

How are you doing with voice?

27 thoughts on “Whose voice is that?”

  1. That’s funny, I was just admiring Joseph’s dingdang darn phrase. I’d heard it before, but not for like twenty years.

    Voice is easy for me since I’m writing a fictionalized memoir. I have another book outlined that will be a challenge. The characters will all be from a figment of my imagination.


    1. You know, not that I have (or would) try memoir, but somehow I think I’d have a harder time with my voice in that.

      (And I refuse to analyze that because I fear what that says about me. 😕 )


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