Thursday, December 20, 2007

An Author's Voice

I have been reading a book by bestselling author, Janet Evanovich, How I Write. She says in the preface that the book is written for a duel audience, both aspiring authors and the fans of her Stephanie Plum books. I think if you are willing to put up with the Stephanie Plum fan club "Yoo, Rah, Rah!," stuff it is a great resource for anyone who wants to improve their own writing. There is tons of good information, tossed out in Evanovich's colorful style.

Which brings me to the point of this post, an author's style or voice. Evanovich had a section in the book in which she discusses an author's personal writing style, which she calls "voice." Now first off, it's difficult for me to use the term, voice, in that way because I think of voice as referring to active or passive. But apparently in the world of writing it means something else.

When Evanovich discusses this topic, she asserts that a good writer will, with practice, get to a point in their writing in which he or she will find a voice that suits them. A style, tone, personality that comes out in their writing.

Now I know from my own reading and the high school and college lit classes I took that many authors do have a certain style. Jane Austin, for example. Yes, her many books are much the same. I have read all of them, and can say this first hand. Are they still enjoyable? Yes. Did they have the staying power to last through the ages? So far, yes. No signs of being consigned to the trash heap of forgotten literature.

William Faulkner. Yeah, he also has a style. I mostly think of his with regard to those books that are all set in that MO county. I am going to expose the holes in my own education here, so bear with me. I can't even remember the name of the county. Prof. Morton Schroeder would not be happy. But I can say that at least that set of Faulkner's books are much the same stylistically. But they are kind of a series, so they don't really count. I don't know whether Faulkner wrote other things that fit the same mold.

Ernest Hemingway? I recently read For Whom the Bell Tolls. I also read one for a class at some point and only remember that it was a downer. I can't even remember which one it was. I think Farewell to Arms. But from what I do remember, I would go out on a limb and say that they are both books written by someone without hope. They are both sad, but compelling. But I am currently reading a book by a MN author, The Legacy by Mark Munger. There have been several times when I have wondered whether he was being intentionally Hemmingway-esque. So there must be something in that makes a Hemingway novel a Hemingway.

I have read all the Stephanie Plum books. Because I enjoyed them, I read a few other Evanovich books. OK, most of the other Evanovich books. (I read hardly any contemporary adult novels, so this has been kind of a different thing for me. I usually read classics and non-fiction interspersed with my kids' school assigned novels for my lazy reading. There is lots and lots of great junior and young adult literature out there.)

Anyway, Evanovich has a new series, so far two are out, I don't know if she will do more. The first is Metro Girl, which is followed by Motor Mouth. But the thing that struck me about these books is that they seemed to be Stephanie Plum dressed up in new characters and a new setting. Otherwise the books are boring. As a reader, I don't enjoy it when an author seems to be always the same.

Think of Tom Cruise compared to Daniel Day-Lewis. Who's the better actor? Tom Cruise is perhaps a more prolific entertainer. He can entertain and has drawn big bucks at the box office. He is always in the spotlight. But his roles are mostly the same. Especially his earlier years. During my late high school and college years, I don't think he ever played a new character.

But Daniel Day-Lewis is different in every role he does. Whether it is Cecil Vyse in A Room with a View, or Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans, or yet another of his many roles, he is new. And so he is the better actor. He has the ability to pretend to be many different things.

And so with an author. And author ought not to become too comfortable with a successful style. readers will get tired of the sameness.

Now, perhaps, just as Tom Cruise has more notoriety and probably has made more money from his films than Daniel Day-Lewis, if an author is after only notoriety and money, one ought to find a voice. But if one wants to truly write well, each new book needs to have a new voice. Or at least more than just new characters and setting.

1 comment:

Char said...

Hi Mary,

Enjoyed the post. I had considered reading "How I Write", but I haven't gotten around to it, yet.

I had been going through a reading lull, but have recently finished 3 books by Elizabeth Berg. I think I may have recommended one to you. I also don't read a lot of contemporary lit (sometimes it's just either annoyingly self-important or has too much gratuitous junk), but I really enjoyed Berg's books.
You can identify her style, but her characters in each book are very different. I really enjoyed the way she drew out her characters, and found them sympathetic.
The ones I read are "We Are All Welcome Here," "The Art of Mending," and "Joy School" (which I guess is the sequel to her "Durable Goods" - which I haven't read yet). If you get a chance you might want to check out some of her stuff.
Hope you guys have a safe and blessed Christmas,
Char