Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Can You Hear An Author's Voice When Reading?

Definition: Voice has two meanings as it concerns creative writers:
  • Voice is the author's style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author's attitude, personality, and character; or
  • Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of a first-person narrator; a persona. Because voice has so much to do with the reader's experience of a work of literature, it is one of the most important elements of a piece of writing.
Also Known As: persona
©About.com: Fiction Writing

I guess because I've never associated the ability to hear or discern an author's voice as tangible, it's not something I've ever been able to define. (That's why I looked up the definition. lol) I've just always been able to hear it. My earliest memory of 'hearing' an author's voice was in Canadian icon, W.O. Mitchell's story "Who Has Seen the Wind". The novel tells the story of a prairie boy's initiation into the mysteries of life, death, God, and the spirit that moves through everything: the wind. While reading the novel as told by Brian O'Connal, the story's protagonist, I could hear his young voice, literally feel the prairie wind on my face and see the wheat moving in the breeze. Now I know some of this has to do with Mitchell's beautiful prose, but it was also his voice narrating that novel.

An author's voice can provoke memories too, and sometimes I can't read a writer's book because an unpleasant memory comes rushing back that is so strong I can not only see what happened, there can be an unpleasant taste or odour, feeling. It has nothing to do with whether or not it is a good book. In fact, it is likely a very good book but it is the sound of the author's voice that provokes an autonomic response. Or, an author's voice can inspire a happy memory. Am I weird or does this happen to you as well?

In novels written collaboratively by two authors, such as the Sydney Croft ACRO series, I can usually tell which author has penned a particular scene. Now mind you, in this case I've read both the authors independent work so I know their voices. IMHO they blend well together because one author writes dark gritty paranormal romance and the other writes action packed military suspense and the Croft series crosses both these genres. Both these ladies have strong voices suited to the superhuman characters written for this series of novels.

There are certain authors voices that work for me and others don't. I like reading emotional, dark, suspenseful, sensual romances with strong characters, and if the voice isn't appropriate narrating this type of story it doesn't make for a good read. It also depends on the genre of the novel of course. Paranormal romance with warrior vampires need a strong dark gritty voice narrating or a reader is going to be rolling their eyes. Conversely a light contemporary romance requires a voice that suits that genre, and the tone of the novel.

Finally, there is point of view. I don't care if the story is told in the first person, second person (rarely used), or third person (limited or omniscient), it doesn't work for me unless the author's voice is distinct and genre appropriate.

Are you able to discern or 'hear' a writer's voice when reading a novel? Just curious..

Tori and I are back for our third and final day on the Island tomorrow and I'm going to be talking about cougars and cubs.. lol


MsM said...

Interesting topic that I haven't really thought about before.
There are certain authors who I can pick up a book without a cover or hint, read a chapter and KNOW who the author is. For me, it's authors like Nora Roberts, Jude Deveroux, Linda Howard, and JR Ward (even her non-fantasy books have her "flavor" of writing that make them scream "JR WARD WROTE ME!").
These author 'voices' are so distinct to me, that I hear them even after I am done reading their books. The scenes or emotions felt stay with me long after I've finished the book.
It's interesting, because other authors that I really do enjoy may not have that same distinct 'voice' even the book sticks with me. In other words the book can stick, but I don't recall their particular 'voice' - if that makes any sense!
This is a hard concept for me to get my brain around this early in the morning! LOL
Great thought provoking post!



Chris said...

There are definitely authors who voices I can recognize. In fact, it has me wondering how many individual authors there are at Torquere Press, because there's a definite similarity among many of them. Or maybe they have some heavy-handed editors...

Lea said...

Thanks Ms.M.!

It absolutely makes sense regarding other authors you enjoy not having as distinct a voice but the book is still memorable. That happens to me too but I tend to like a stronger voice in literature so I go for those author's books. I 'hear' you re the difficult concept.. LOL Like I said it's not really tangible is it?

Thanks again!

Lea said...

Hey Chris!

I never thought of editing with respect to this issue, especially when you notice a similarity between voices with a particular publisher. That is interesting!


Blodeuedd said...

Not sure, cos I did read the book Brandon Sanderson wrote using Robert Jordans notes and scenes. But he did mimick Jordan's voice weöö

Mary G said...

Hi Lea
Oh how I love this topic & post.
I can definitely recognize authors'
voices. It one of the things I admire about my fave authors: the ability to have a voice I love and not be repetitious.

I don't think it's weird at all that an author can inspire memories. The other plus: Reading a voice you love is very comforting, like I'm enjoying being with a good friend that I
feel comfortable with. My mind is totally open to the words.
Terrific post lea!

Dr J said...

There are indeed voices that I "hear" when I read -- it has always been that way. In fact, sometimes I form the entire character before I see the front cover and it is jarring to see another's idea of what the characters even look like--so very different from mine. It is the same even when I receive comments on my reviews or comments on my comments. I have always been a very auditory person -- I am delighted to see all those who share that sense while reading the printed word. Great article and so very thought-provoking!

Unknown said...

Hi Lea!

So interesting, I sometimes wonder how different people 'hear' the author's words, because a book is really a play about the characters and their lives. Do other people imagine the characters, the author's voice in the same way that I do? What part of the author do their characters retain, can I see that author as one of their own characters, do they fit the persona? I know when a book's special when it stays with, when the author's voice is distinctive and real. Thanks for a very thought provoking post Lea! It's hard to say what exactly I mean, hope it's not too confusing!

Dottie :)

Lea said...

Hey B:

Hmmm, interesting because I have read books where I thought the voice sounded eerily familiar but weren't written by the same author. One would think that a voice should be pretty specific to authors though.

Thanks B!!

Lea said...

Hi Mary!

Thank you, I feel the same way, there are authors I return to again and again because their voice resonates with me. Doesn't matter if it is soothing or exciting.

Soo good..

Thanks again.. :-)

Lea said...

Hi Dr. J.:

Thank you! I do that too, and I think that is the mark of a good author as well. You can literally "see" the characters just by the 'sound' of their voice. It makes the read that much more fulfilling.

Thank you again!

Lea said...

Hi Dottie:

Not confusing at all and so true about a book being a play about the characters and their lives. And, certainly the voice of the author narrating his/her characters story is key to making that story real to the reader.

Thanks so much Dottie!!

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