Thursday, March 10, 2011

Writers & Voice (Part 2): Stephen Pressfield & The Fabrication Of Voice

Previous: Part 1

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As I mentioned in my previous post, there often seems to be an aura of mystery around the whole concept of voice in writing. I've heard some say it can't really be defined, that a writer with a middle grade voice can't write YA (and vice versa). That having "a strong voice" is necessary for some genres but not others. That you can't change your voice so therefore it's important to find what your own writing voice IS so you can write the appropriate type of material.

I've been wrestling over how to approaching this series of posts and I've decided that I'm going to start out by looking at how different writers approach voice.

Stephen Pressfield is an American screenplay writer and author of historical fiction. His blog post, The Writer's Voice, was fascinating.

Stephen points out that the writer's voice is fabricated:

"The critical fact to remember is that the writer’s voice is artificial. It’s an act of artifice, crafted by the professional to achieve a specific effect in a work of the imagination. It’s not the “real” writer’s voice and if you try to find your own, you’ll drive yourself crazy. Because “you” don’t really exist. I don’t either, no matter how convincingly anybody tells us that we do or how much we choose to believe it. But that’s a subject for another chapter."

On the role of voice:

"The writer’s voice casts a spell. The right voice makes the work accessible; it gives us the tone and point of view that best illuminate the material and make it shine."

On finding the right voice for your story:

"To me the trick is getting your own ego out of the way. What voice does the material want? Find that. You the writer are not there to impose “your” voice on the material. Your job is to surrender to the material–and allow it to tell you what voice it wants in order to tell itself."

What I got out of this blog post:

According to Stephen Pressfield, a writer should theoretically be able to change his or her voice from one story to another. In fact, the voice SHOULD change and be created to best suit the material:

The writer’s voice (or director’s, choreographer’s, photographer’s, entrepreneur’s) arises from the material itself and acts in service to that material. It can, and often does, change from book to book, dance to dance, album to album, business venture to business venture.

This is encouraging news for someone like me. I've been told that my novels are written with a strong middle grade voice. While this is fine for my middle grade novels, what if I want to write YA? And what about specifics? What's the best way to change voice?

More in my next post.

You can read Stephen Pressfield's full post on The Writer's Voice.

-- Debbie Ridpath Ohi


  1. Great post, it reminds me of the quote from Hamlet, "These words are not mine." Voice is from the writer but not necessarily from the writer.

  2. This is a great post. Voice is the unique way the writer combines words and creates images.:)

  3. Thanks for this - I'm always interested in a discussion of where voice comes from. Getting your ego out of the way is helpful - though sometimes you're trying to create your own voice on the page!
    I've also got a post up at Writerly Life about the elements of voice:

  4. Lots to think about in this post. I think it's true that the project dictates the voice, but often I find myself pushing against my normal light tone when I'm writing something darker.

  5. I love that quote about how voice casts a spell.

  6. Adore this -- > The writer’s voice casts a spell. The right voice makes the work accessible; it gives us the tone and point of view that best illuminate the material and make it shine."

    Also love get your own ego out of the way.

    So much good stuff (true stuff) in here.


  7. I think, perhaps, a writers voice best comes across in dialogue. I am an extremely sarcastic person. Think Chandler from Friends and that's me therefore a lot of my characters do talk in my voice. Even in their thoughts, it will be how I would think. Our characters are part of us.


  8. This definitely got me thinking, and asking more questions of myself, such as, "Where in my story are we best seeing into the soul of my character?" Doesn't Voice encompass his "take" on the world around him, where he thinks he fits or doesn't fit, what has chewed him up and spit him out, how he has succeeded or failed, as well as his passions and how he views them?

    I'm off to read "The Writer's Voice." Thanks for this insightful post!!

  9. A helpful strategy for me is imagining someone I know (not one of the boring ones) and exaggerating their oddest tendencies. -Without ever confessing to having done it. ("Oh God no, I certainly did not think of you. This is fiction, silly.")


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