Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Distinguishing Attitude of the Writer's Voice (Part One)

Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, all writers eventually develop their own unique voice, comprised of several factors. The last time I posted here at the Writers Vineyard, the topic was The Right Word. Another ingredient of the writer’s voice is the tonal quality or the distinctive sound employed by the author. The sound may be jubilant, arrogant, detached, whimsical, flat, technical, grandiose. Inappropriate attitudes may puzzle or repel a reader. Self-righteousness may irritate the reader, while a dull tone may bore the reader. According to John Fowles, “The most difficult task for a writer is to get the right “voice” for his material. By voice I mean the overall impression one has of the creator behind what he creates.

The best authors keep this in mind. They modify their tenor to adapt to their reader’s ear. They write to the particular audience they are addressing.

A conversational or freewheeling tone may work well for an essay on a rock band for a school paper. An amicable, candid tone is suitable for correspondence to your graduating class to solicit alumni donations. A more formal tone is expected if you are writing a letter to someone with a doctorate in linguistics.

While this may seem apparent , Amazon and the internet is chockfull of blogs, books, and articles in which the writers err in determining an audience’s psychological level. They often use a rigid, similar tone no matter who they are addressing and do not recognize that their tenor needs to change for toddlers, teens, professionals, or the undereducated readers. This can be avoided by writers if they ask themselves these questions before they write:

  • Exactly who am I writing to/for?
  • What is the general age group?
  • Can I identify their interests? Educational level? Psychosocial background?
  • Why will they read my work and what do they hope/expect to take away from it?
  • What will it take to get them to listen to what you are relating?
  • What tone will they find most pleasing?
  • What tone should I not use?

By answering the above questions truthfully, the right tone should flow spontaneously.

Be affable.

If there is one trait more necessary than the rest for success, it is likability. Most successful public figures make us want to know them, talk to them, to be their friends. The same process is necessary for writers to become successful. However, writers do not accomplish this through charisma. They do so by the way they express written ideas. Writers must not only come across as likable, but they must also create the impression that they like the reader, think the reader is a smart, special person, that they know of his/her inner concerns and are here to address those concerns—that they care. Some authors do this with humor. Some through anticipation of the reader’s needs. Another is attentive Some gain approval through humility, or by asking the reader questions. Sympathizing with the reader is generally a good tool. Readers like to think that authors care about them.

Frankly, authors make themselves likable in the same way everyone does: by being friendly, interesting, telling a good story, and being genuinely concerned with the welfare of the person they are speaking to. According to Blaise Pascal, “When we encounter a natural style, we are always surprised and delighted, for we thought to see an author and instead found a man.

Keep the tone consistent from start to finish.

If the beginning is formal, then the entire piece should be formal through the end. Sudden comedic expression or becoming overly conversant in the middle of a factual work should be guarded against. Such abrupt shifts in attitude only serve to confuse the reader and make the author appear unconfident and fickle.

In addition, avoid abrupt, qualitative raising and lowering in vocabulary level. Even one expletive thrown into an otherwise formal piece can cause a tragic impression of the entire text. Misplaced humor, interjections of abrasive opinions, sudden touting of self-righteous anger,  out of place sexual innuendos can have the same disastrous effect. Attitude in writing is another word for tastefulness.  Extreme and abrupt changes are often in poor taste.

Beware of self-aggrandizement.

Authors who call repeated attention to themselves become irritating. Avoid those as-I-have-already-demonstrated statements.

Readers will like the author more and respect what he/she is saying if the author remains a pleasant background voice. This means writing in the first person when necessary only and avoiding bragging or preaching or a condescending tone. It also means eliminating apologetic disclaimers and musings on personal inadequacy.

Authors should know what they are writing about. If not experts in the field, the writer should be an excellent researcher capable of addressing the topic. It is the author’s right to sound authoritative and able. The writer’s competence should be easily discernable from and good and wise writing, without calling attention to one’s self.

Show; don’t tell.

This item had to be expected. Little time will be spent on it here because it deserves and entire post ny itself. A cardinal error for any authors is to describe thoughts, feelings, and attitudes about a topic rather than allowing facts, actions and evidence to speak for themselves. The wise author broadens his/her vocabulary and learns to paint with words.

Persuade with examples, not opinions.

The best authors make readers adopt the author’s perspective. The key to this is presenting so much hard evidence and so many persuasive examples that the reader will reach the author’s conclusions on their own. Readers find this flattering, thinking they have figured out everything for themselves. The author appears all the more modest and intelligent for having gently pointed out the correct path. (This is very similar to the same concept behind show; don’t tell.

Next time, we’ll look at a few more things particular to the attitude of the writer’s voice.
Mary is the best-selling author of historical romantic fiction as well as medico-nursing nonfiction.