Monday, May 9, 2011

Guest blog from Terry's Client Normandie Fischer

Normandie Fischer, writer and editor

My favorite comments from the latest contest judges concerned my writing voice -- hugely encouraging. But they got me thinking about voice and how we learn it -- or if we learn it at all. Is the cadence of our writing bred into us like the language of our tongues?

I don't pretend to have an answer to that. I write, I've always written, the way I hear language. Yesterday I spent some hours revisiting an old story with Maryland's Eastern Shore as the backdrop. There I heard a different tone from my Beaufort stories, a different word patterning. The cadence of the South, which permeates conversation and thought as well as observation, fixes itself into the words of the Beaufort folk. Does that mean I as author see things differently when I'm in different places?

I think it does. I think the me who wrote from Mexico had images pressed into my mind that were slower, drier, perhaps friendlier. They held whiffs of deep sea and large expanses of open water and empty land, of mountains plunging toward the sea and whales cavorting off our bow.

The me who writes here in NC feels more confined to place. I'm no longer surrounded by the lilt or clip of foreign tongues or by the lazy days at anchor. Here, the world seems populated with issues that need to be solved, tempers that must be assuaged, emotions that must have reason...if only I could plumb deeply enough to discover them. Here, I'm awash in a world of care, which must translate somehow into the words I use to craft stories. (Or the ones I pluck from the moment to write on this blog.)

What are your thoughts on voice and writing? Do you think you've learned the voice with which you write, or is it merely you as you've always written on paper (or screen)? Please post a comment and let me know.


Mary K. Johnson said...

Interesting comments about voice. I wonder if it doesn't come from what we read as well. I can't read certain authors while I am writing because their voices are so pronounced that they influence my own voice too profoundly. Have you ever noticed that?
At the same time, I'm puzzled when writers say they "don't have time to read." Hard to imagine writing successfully without it!

Linda Glaz said...

Hmmm, since I tend to write sarcastic, what does that say about me? Ouch! Maybe I need to close my mouth and stop my voice. Errghh. Good post, Normandie and a LOT to ponder!

normandie said...

Mary K., I appreciate your thoughts. I read voraciously, but what appeals most are works that have strong and unique voices, whether these hold images of the south or the west, have a hint of various English locales, or are even works in translation. Perhaps if one varies one's reading enough, the issue of plagiarizing voice shouldn't be a problem. If you must eschew certain writers while you write, do you then take breaks from writing so that you can read them?

With my writer's hat on instead of my reader's, my characters take on a life of their own, revealing their identity and their particular voices. I suppose the combination of them within a particular story then becomes my story's voice. Does that make sense? Perhaps that's what I meant when I said place seems to play a large part for me: the language of the folk who live there, the sounds and scents of a particular area, be it small town or city or the sea.

Normandie said...

And, Linda, your sarcasm is always tempered by your sweet spirit, so I wouldn't worry about it! I find that sarcasm with fingers pointed toward ourselves's only when we direct it toward another that it stops the conversation. N'est-ce pas?

Teresa Slack said...

Beautifully put, Normandie. I have to fight the urge to write like whoever I'm reading at the time. My voice is most influenced by growing up in Southern Ohio. I am the way I write. If you've read one of my books, you already know me. Probably grating to some, but readers seem to relate. They say fiction is written on the level of the average 5th grader. Good thing for me.

Katherine Hyde said...

Very interesting thoughts, Normandie! Based on your blog voice, I'm very interested in reading your fiction.

I believe voice is influenced by many factors, including place, reading, family background, etc. I read a lot of British fiction and watch a lot of BBC, and I find Britishisms creeping into my writing. (My current WIP is set in Britain, so I can just go with it!)

I think my normal third-person writing voice is an agglomeration of all these factors and more. But when I write in first person, the voice seems to flow from the character without my really having to work at it much. I've written through an 80-something woman from the Midwest, a California teenager in the 70s, and a 13-year-old British choirboy, and they all somehow magically sound right. It's that "characters coming alive" thing taken to a whole new level. Where does it come from? Beats me! All I know is that it's not from my conscious mind.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with those who think that voice is determined much by your past experiences and lifestyle.
My unique "voice" has developed in a fiction series about kids and horses. But now I have a new "voice" emerging in my latest project, an Amish/Mennonite fiction series for adults
I'm well acquainted with the lifestyles and ways of all three: kids, horses, and the Amish/Mennonites because of my past experiences and my home in the rural area of Pennsylvania.
Marsha Hubler

Normandie said...


That's hilarious. So you write like a fifth-grader in Ohio? I doubt it! But I love what you said about readers knowing you from your stories. Let me just say this: I hope you may know a little bit about me from my writing, but my fiction is fiction. A reader recently asked if I'd captured an abuse victim so well because I was abused. I wasn't. But don't we as writers have to dig deeply to uncover the voices in our stories? Yes, we often write what we know, but not always, certainly. And finding that particular voice, that different set of values perhaps, or that different set of experiences, makes for richness in our craft.


I appreciate your thoughts on voice developing from your subject matter. Certainly, writing about horses and children will require a different perspective from writing of an Amish/Mennonite world. I remember living near the horse and buggy world in PA. It was always fun to hear their Germanic accented English.

And, Katherine,

I can relate to language and pacing entering into our writing. I not only read a lot of British authors, but I also lived with several when I studied in Italy. They and the Italians still affect me when I let them. When I begin to speak Italian, I find my word arrangement in English differs -- which is fine when that's a character's natural voice, but it needs purging when it's intrusive.

I am thoroughly enjoying this discussion. Thanks for stopping by.

Caroline said...

Wow. Very interesting thoughts on voice in the post and here in the comments.

A little different perspective (and perhaps a little off-topic since we're discussing writing voice in particular)... I feel like my writing voice can be quite different from my speaking voice. My writing voice is how I *want* my speaking voice to be - slower, more thoughtful. Perhaps it's because when writing, I have to slow my thoughts down enough to type or write them out! Then, of course, editing is lovely. I need an instant editor for my tongue.