When you’re skimming through a book to see whether you’d want to invest your time in reading it, what are the things that you look for?
Imagery and sense of humor are the two things that catch my attention – in addition to overarching elements like genre, setting, pace and plot, of course – when I’m trying to decide whether a book is worth reading or not.
(If given a choice, I would never reject any book, because every one of them has a lesson to teach a writer, be it: “how to do things right” or “what mistakes not to make as a writer”. However, because of the fact that the time at our disposal is not unlimited, sometimes, regrettably, I put down a book just after judging it by its cover and/or the content of its jacket flap.)
Sometimes, even if the plotline of a book doesn’t appeal to me, I go ahead and finish reading it just because I love the author’s voice and style of expression.
So, what is this Style or Voice of a writer?
William Strunk Jr. and E.B.White say this in The Elements of Style:
With some writers, style not only reveals the spirit of the man but reveals his identity, as surely as would his fingerprints.
I couldn’t agree more with what Strunk Jr. and White claim and have a personal experience along the exact lines of what they opine.
I happen to adore an English author called “Miss Read” (it was a pseudonym for Dora Saint) and have read almost all the books she has ever written — some even multiple times.
Once, I came across a book called “A Light in the Window” by American author Jan Karon (it was a few months after the first book in her ‘Mitford’ series was released – this series went on to become quite popular soon).
I chose to read that book because it sounded like I would enjoy the rural setting and the sedate pace of the book (which are trademarks of Miss Read’s books).
I brought it home from the library and as I began to read it, my heart began to beat faster. (Hey, I already admitted to being an incurable bookworm, didn’t I?)
Reason? The setting of the book and the voice of the author reminded me very much of Miss Read’s books. I quickly flipped to the back cover of the book and skimmed through the snippet of information included there about the author.
And sure enough, Jan Karon had acknowledged that she’d written that book inspired by none other than Miss Read.
You cannot imagine the elation I felt at having recognized the voice of Miss Read not in one of the books she had written, but in a book inspired by her.
You sit down at a desk, relax and let the words flow naturally – this is how your voice as a writer is born.
A writer’s voice is what sets her apart from any other writer. Even if two writers are given the same story line and asked to write a book each, based upon their choice of words, i.e., their style and voice, chances are the two outcomes end up looking completely different.
A novice writer’s voice may be the result of a lot of things, among which some possibilities are:
- The influence of the voice of authors that she likes
- His personality traits
- Her linguistic ability
- The way he expresses himself when he speaks
- Elements of those books that make them enjoyable for her
- His training and past experiences etc.
The same voice may not work for all genres and age groups. For instance:
- A younger children’s book needs a faster pace, lesser description and more humorous sequences, while a young adult book can invest more pages in imagery and narration of the setting.
- A historical YA romance begs for a voice completely different from a contemporary, realistic coming-of-age MG book.
Having said that, an author’s voice may change some based on the genre or the age group, and emerge and evolve as the person grows as a writer, but the underlying distinguishable elements of her voice will remain the same (unless the writer in question works consciously in adapting a completely new voice and style for reasons for her own).
Here are a few things I discovered since I began to write myself:
- The main characters in my books have – at least aspire for – a sarcastic bent of voice (the sarcasm being of the self-deprecatory type rather than the variety which puts others down).
- I like to take my time to describe a setting — I subconsciously personify inanimate things and interpret images through their purported actions/characteristics.
Lo and behold – these are the exact two things that I enjoy in the books that I read! It doesn’t mean that I sat down one day and decided that this is what my Style would be as a writer. Quite the contrary – it just happened naturally.
- What makes you tick as a reader?
- If you happen to write also, then what are the major attributes in your Voice? And does your writer’s voice have elements in common with those features in the books that you cherish as a reader?