Words to the Wise
Listen To Your
last article I talked about
style and voice and the difference between them. Style, I said,
quoting my own writing teacher,
Eileen Kernaghan, involves the
structure and rhythm of the sentences, choice of words, use of
metaphors and images. Voice is the disguise you wear when you
write. The disguise cannot be taught: it is something you bring
out in yourself by working on your manuscript.
of us beg for guidance on how to cultivate our writing voice.
Constance Hale, in her book Sin and Syntax: How to Craft
Wickedly Effective Prose, offers the best I have found.
"Voice," writes Hale, "is the je ne sais quoi of spirited
writing. It separates brochures and brilliance, memo and memoir,
a ship's log and The Old Man and the Sea. Strong voice is
conversational: The writer leaves us with a sense that we are
listening to a skilled raconteur rather than passing our
eyes over ink on paper." As writers we are often admonished
to write the way we talk, but voice, says Hale, involves more
than accurate transcription. The true zing of conversation comes
from attentive listening and painstaking revision.
Hale offers an
exercise to get us going, which she calls "Ode to a tape
recorder." It is the very technique I recommend to my editing
clients to help them decide if their dialogue is working, but it
is essential to perfecting all your writing. Read your
lines aloud, over and over, and recast any word or sentence that
does not roll off the tongue. You can start, if you wish, by
speaking your ideas into a tape recorder, to let your voice flow
and to hear yourself. Transcribing talk, Hale is quick to point
out, is not tantamount to writing, but it's a technique to
cultivate voice. Anything that stops you or makes you cringe
when you read it aloud needs rewriting. In early drafts, that's
a lot of what we write.
Constance Hale, Sin and
Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose. New York:
Broadway Books, 2001.
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