Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What exactly is a writer's voice


Like many romance authors I considered trying another genre. I read historical romance, I wrote historical romance, but I gave considerable thought to writing a contemporary romance. It wasn’t easy. A friend told me, “You don’t have a contemporary voice, you have a historical voice.”

 That gave me pause. What did she mean I had a historical voice as opposed to a contemporary voice? I thought about it a lot. What made my voice so different from the voices of  contemporary authors? In fact, what makes a historical voice?

I decided to compare some of the contemporary authors to well known historical  novelists.  Sharing my findings may be no surprise to you, but they were to me and led to other questions.

What did I find? The most noticeable difference is the dialogue between contemporary characters. That I expected.  But I noticed other changes in the use of words describing a scene, a character, a place.  There is an ease to the modern novel quite removed from the historical tale. For one, contemporary romances contain clichés, and modern turns of phrase not even known a hundred years ago. But I also noticed something else. There is a more formal approached to the historical story, not something you can reach out and touch, but it’s a real. Words are used in a certain pattern, fewer contractions, more formal address. The age of the words used now counts. The heroine of a historical romance set in the west a hundred years ago would never use the word ‘over and out!”

The characters have a tendency, even if it’s a humorous historical romance, to be more formal in their conversations. The heroine of an eighteen century adventure would never tell the hero, “Don’t go there,” if she didn’t want to discuss something.

 All this analysis leads to another question. How do you develop a historical voice, and can you accomplish such a task? I don’t have the answer to that, but I have a feeling that the author of a historical novel is someone who thinks of and might even admire the simpler, less complicated life of days ago. Someone who perhaps likes a bit of formality, an individual who enjoys hearing historical tidbits, admires the style and beauty of historical dress and the grandness of some time periods. Someone who instinctively would be attracted to books by Jane Austin, Charles Dickens to name just two.

That doesn’t mean a historical author doesn’t enjoy the here and now. Where would we be without computers, printing presses, POD, microwaves, and the automobile? We’d be nowhere, and I doubt any historical romance author would willing trade a today with yesteryear. But true to the nature of the historical romance writer – we can pretend for awhile and go back in time.

So, how would you describe a historical voice?


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Anachronisms are a big problem in voice, be they from 1960, or 1760. Fortunately we can google almost any phrase and get a date for its usage.

We used to do tedious research in the library to find out how some historical character might have spoken.

I've writen both genres, but prefer a more contemporary voice, filled with new phrases and technology.

Unknown said...

I write both, too. Certainly, word choice has changed and certain things weren't around or would be said differently (lucifer strike instead of match, for example) I think it's about more than just word choice, though. The language itself was more 'flowery' and more formal, there is more of a tendency to longer sentences and a slightly more passive voice. Where modern language is more direct-and maybe a bit more terse as well.

Joan Reeves said...

I'm trapped in the contemporary world even though I have had some great ideas for historical. As to a historical voice, I think one that gives a "semblance" of time era without actually recreating the spoken word of that era is most successful. Perhaps that is created by more formal English and grammar than the casual approach we contemporary authors use?