Friday, October 21, 2011

What We Can Learn About Voice from Music

Remember that "Let's talk about you" post from a while back? I think I've answered all the questions (if I missed one, poke me with a stick), but Holly Ruggiero just wanted a post on writing craft. This one's for her and I hope if fits the bill.

Holly blogs over at A Southpaw's POV. She writes fantasy and urban fantasy, and I believe she was one of my first followers. Holly, thanks for sticking around with me through all my mood swings.

Sunday night I drove to a meeting half an hour away. I listened to the following song four times in a row. As I listened, this post formed in my head. I hope it makes sense.

First, I suggest you plug in some earphones and listen to the song. Let it fill you, expand your spirit, and make all the stress in your life disappear. (Feel free to listen to it over and over.)

I don't have a clue what the words mean. I'm sure I could look up a translation, but I won't. Everything I need to know and understand in order for the song to touch me is in the voice.

The violin, so clear and piercing in its sincerity. Full of longing, climbing and falling, taking its time and rushing. Melancholy and exultant. Reaching, ever reaching. For me, it sounds like the core of life itself.

And then Josh Groban sings. Effortless, compelling, drawing you into the emotion even further. You can't help but feel something.

Now, we've all heard that we need to find our own voice in our writing. I finally got it listening to this song. We each have a unique voice, and when used correctly, we can pull the reader in. Make them feel something

So, lets take a look at our physical voice.
The sound of each individual's voice is entirely unique not only because of the actual shape and size of an individual's vocal cords but also due to the size and shape of the rest of that person's body, especially the vocal tract, and the manner in which the speech sounds are habitually formed and articulated. Wikipedia
Voice can be describe by its pitch, volume and timbre. (Indulge me, I think this is fascinating and wonder how I can apply it to describing my MCs voices. I'll try to keep it brief.)

Pitch is how we order sound based on the frequency of vibrations of the vocal cords. High or low.
Volume is simply how loud or soft the sound is.
Timbre/Tone is where things get fun.
"In simplest terms, timbre is what makes a particular sound unique from another sound. For instance, it is the difference between a guitar and a piano playing the same note at the same volume." Wikipedia
Now, let's compare it to our writer's voice.

No one can write a story exactly like you because of your unique life experiences, the depth of emotion you have experienced, your sense of humor, fairness, justice, etc. Your habits also effect your writing skill.  --Me, I just set it off to mirror the above. :)
Pitch is how we hook our readers or agents. I'm lumping cover blurbs in this. The 'frequency' of times we share our books with others strengthens our pitching muscles.
Volume could relate to how strong or subtle our voice is. Do you have a snarky sense of humor that is impossible to miss, or one that is more of an intellectual puzzle? Is your romance cute or steamy? You could also relate volume to the sheer number of works you finish and send out into the world. The more books you publish the 'louder' your voice in the writing world.
Tone is the attitude a writer takes towards a subject or character: serious, humorous, sarcastic, ironic, satirical, tongue-in-cheek, solemn, objective.

What does your writer's voice sound like? Do you know? 
Tip: find one of your favorite sentences or paragraphs and that's probably your voice. I'm going to go look for mine now. ;)  
When you find yours, come back and post a snippet in the comments and I'll do the same.


  1. This is perfect. I've been thinking a lot about voice lately. I resurrected a half finished manuscript that needs tons of work. I wrote it before I even knew what a scene was, and yet there's something very enjoyable about it. Places make me laugh out loud still. I realized it's because I nailed the voice from the get go. You can get away with having a less than stellar plot if your voice still keeps people captivated. Not that you should slack off or anything, but it's funny what you don't notice when you're sucked into the voice.

    This is one of my favorite lines from that manuscript:
    "The Buick ground to a halt, and coughed. Matt either shut off the engine, or it died."

  2. "Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning." -- Maya Angelou

  3. Mine favorite is a short exchange:
    Athee tossed aside her hair and eyed him expectantly. "I thought I'd ride in the cockpit with you."
    "That's probably not a good idea."
    "Why not?"
    "That's the co-pilot's seat."
    "Do you have a co-pilot?"
    "Well, no..."
    "Then this seat is open."

  4. Lovely song! I really enjoy Josh Groban (and violin music). Good run-down of a writer's voice compared to a human voice! I think you've nailed it. We are all unique, and our voices are all unique, like fingerprints. :)

  5. Elizabeth, love those lines, and the voice.

    Michael, thanks for the quote. It's perfect.

    Alex, I love the straight forward no nonsense attitude Athee has.

    Carol, reading your comment reminded me that we all hear/receive things differently too. That whole "subjective" thing that sometimes keeps us un-agented. :)

  6. All right. I was starting to think there was nothing to post. Have I edited all the voice out? Or am I just so sick of reading it over and over that I no longer see it?

    Here is a new conversation (written this week during revisions) that I like.

    “Landry, how are we going to get down there?”
    “What?” Talia swallowed hard. “You mean climb down?”
    His eyes crinkled in the corners and after a moment the laughter escaped. “You’ve run through hell and come out the other side without complaint, and now a little slide down a rope has you spooked?”
    “It’s a long way down.” She mumbled while looking at the ground far below them.

  7. Love this post, Charity. Voice is one of the key things, I believe, that takes a story from great to unforgettable. Your snippet is awesome. I'm feeling for Talia already!

    I'm on the train so can't post a snippet but I'll return with one soonish! :-)

  8. Okay, as promised, here's a favourite quote from my male MC Seb. Warning: contains Young Adult themes:

    "Right then, Bronson swam past chasing this dragonfly. I swear the dragonfly was messing with him – it’d land on the water, wait for Bronson to get within snapping distance, then take off. Geez it was funny. Watching him made me wonder – would I ever bring a chick from the city back here? Half of them’d probably never seen a place like this before.
    I imagined the girl – she’d have perfect tits and this incredible curvy body, and we’d go skinny dipping in the dam together. She’d be nervous about getting naked, but I’d make her feel more confident by telling her how hot she was.
    As the rest of the scene played out in my head, I was glad I was in the water and away from Dad. I needed the coverage, if you get what I mean.
    But then, suddenly, I came back to reality and realised that skinny dipping in the dam wasn’t such a smart idea – what if I got all hot-and-heavy with a chick only to get my dick nipped by a yabby?"


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