Monday, December 9, 2013

Writers have Voices Too (Even If We Don’t Sing) - Ciara Ballintyne

Writers have Voices Too (Even If We Don’t Sing)

I confess – I’m a lawyer. A financial services lawyer. Sounds boring, huh? Don’t hold it against me!

The vast majority of my writing is technical legal writing. That’s what I do, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and it’s hard for the few hours of creative writing a day to compete.

Technical legal writing is, by its very nature, formal. Even in a plain English format, it’s still formal and often passive, the very antithesis of what a well-written story should be. I have the dreadful bad habit of writing drafts in very formal language, and all my characters sound stilted, pompous and overly formal.

This is something I strive to change during revisions, but inevitably my editor asks for more changes. But some of it will always remain – and why?

Authorial voice.

Voice is a hard thing to describe. It’s often defined as the combination of style, word choices, sentence structure and so forth that an author makes, which combine to create the author’s ‘sound’. Acquiring editors are often heard to say voice is what makes a manuscript stand out for them, and make it compelling, and while that is true, that’s not a definition of voice. Also, voice is subjective – what one person likes, another will not.

This is reflected in the reviews of Confronting the Demon. One says the book is ‘worth it for the prose’. Quite a few others praise how the prose immerses them in Alloran’s world, to the point they can smell the rotten garbage and see the stairway of starlight. On the other hand, a couple chide me for trying too hard to use words that sound too ‘high fantasy’. The fact that I don’t try hard, that this is just naturally the way I speak and write, is irrelevant. What we can really take away from these conflicting reviews is that some people love my voice, and others don’t. That’s natural, and there’s no point in me trying to convert the ones who don’t – they simply aren’t my audience.

Authorial voice can be distinguished from character voice. When we submerge ourselves deeply in a character and write from their POV then, if the character has a distinct voice, it will at least partially eclipse the authorial voice. Then it is important to use words that character would choose.

What should be noted from this is that voice can be changed – but many writers find it difficult to write contrary to their natural authorial voice, and it’s even harder to do without a clear character’s personality dictating the new voice. How can one write differently to oneself? If not like ourselves, then like whom should we write? You could, of course, mimic another author’s voice, but that’s undesirable. How does one strive to make one’s own voice different yet not something else specifically?

So to some degree, my formality and word choice is part of my voice. We tone it down to make the story work, but it can’t be completely erased. My editor chides me for formal or archaic word choice, but I am clueless unless she tells me which words, because to me this is natural. It’s not only how I write, but partly how I speak. These are words and language and formality that I would use in my verbal language, not just at work, but casually, to the right audience.

Being a lawyer presents challenges to my creative writing, but it has also subtly, and indelibly, influenced my voice, and voice isn’t something that should be edited out.

Can you think of authors whose ‘voice’ you love? These will be the books that really sweep you away, take you to another place and time, and find truly compelling. Part of it will be story and character, but part of it will be the way the story speaks to you and stands out from other books you’ve read - that will be voice.

Confronting the Demon

The gates to hell are thrown wide when Alloran is betrayed by his best friend, Ladanyon, and framed for forbidden magic. He is hunted by the guards and the wizards both, tormented by the gruesome murder of his friends and loved ones, and crippled by fear for the living. Now Alloran must face his demons, or damn the woman he loves.

Includes the short story A Magical Melody

When a lethal spell is stolen from a locked and warded room, Avram must hunt down the thief before the song of power buries a city of innocents beneath a thousand tons of ice.

Buy Confronting the Demon on Amazon

About the Author:

Ciara Ballintyne was born in 1981 in Sydney, Australia, where she lives with her husband, two daughters, one masochistic cat, and one cat with a god complex. She holds degrees in law and accounting, and has been a practising financial services lawyer since 2004. She is both an idealist and a cynic.

She started reading epic fantasy at the age of nine, when she kidnapped Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings from her father. Another two years passed before she began her first attempts at the craft of writing. Confronting the Demon is her debut book.

She enjoys horse-riding, and speculation about taking over the world. If she could choose to be anything it would be a dragon, but instead she shares more in common with Dr. Gregory House of House. M.D.

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