Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wait, That's Not My Voice

Every once in a while I will go an author spree, usually with an author I have either just discovered or perhaps rediscovered. This is when a trip to the library finds me coming home with several titles, all by the same writer. (Used to be the bookstore before the economy tanked.) It doesn't have to be that the writer uses the same characters, as I've been known to do this with author's who invent new characters and stories every time out.

When I get deep into an author like that, I find I have to watch myself when I write, otherwise something I think of as "authorial voice creep" comes over my work. This is when, even though by now I have well-established my own voice in my work, the words I'm putting down on the page start to sound more like someone else. Specifically, whichever writer I'm currently reading.

It's not always a question of just voice, either. It may also be style. I may find myself writing more lyrical descriptions than is normal for me. Or writing more descriptions, period. Or I may suddenly find all my characters have taken on a philosophical tone to their conversations, where beforehand they spoke in sentences that were short and to the point. Sometimes this is even a conscious effort on my part. I learned much of what I know about dialog from reading Robert Parker, and I can see that influence in more than a few - though not all - of my characters.

There have been times, however, when I look down at the page I've just written and realize to my chagrin that instead of it sounding like me, it sounds like someone else. I did this once with Mark Twain. Now, Twain's not a bad voice to emulate, but his voice isn't my voice, and attempting to copy him is not something I'd recommend for anyone. I've also done it when I've been reading poetry. For a while, some of what I wrote had a very James Dickey quality to it. Until I went back and edited it so it sounded like me again.

It's not a conscious effort on my part. I'm not trying to emulate these people, I just am. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (a dictum television and film clearly take to heart and beyond... but that's another entry entirely) and in a way I suppose it's a reflection of my enjoying the voice of the author. On the other hand, some of it's just what happens with any immersion, which is why if you live some place long enough you eventually pick up the local accent.

Unless you're my freshman calculus teacher who had an incurably bad French accent. Not that her French was bad, just that her accent was tougher than day old French bread.

So I wonder, does anyone else do this, and does it ever stop?


Laurie said...

I can only speak for myself here, but I've noticed when I start overthinking what I'm writing or editing and really start mucking it up, a read of something particularly creepy by Stephen King tends to give me my voice back. My stories have never been compared to his and I've been told by a couple people that the voice I've developed over the last year or so is my own.

And I just realized I didn't answer your question...


Voice immitation hasn't been a problem for me (yet).

But maybe I need to reread "IT" again...

Creative A said...

I had this happen to me recently when I went on a Kristin Cashore kick. In one week I read both Graceling and Fire which I think average out to be around 500 pages each. Then I tried to start rewrites on my novel--and I was dripping Cashore, just oozing it. So I can sympathize with this!

I wouldn't say that you can reach a point where this never happens, but the more secure you get in your voice, and the more grounded you are in your novel, the less intense it is. It helps a lot to wait a week or so and clear your writing mind. Or, re-read your own stuff.