That Distinctive Voice

It doesn’t happen very often, but I had the pleasure of seeing a modern Porsche 911 drive past whilst I was walking to work this morning. Whatever you may think about the German sports car maker, they do make very distinctive looking cars. I came across a promotion film on Youtube that Porsche made years ago about their 928: even in the late 1970’s, the Porsche 928 really stood out as different amongst the other cars.

In the sea of car makes and models, it seems to be really difficult to design and build a shape that stands out. Few manage it and those that do tend to hold on to their distinctive shapes for decades. Porsche clearly does. Lamborghini does, too. The Lamborghini Countach is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable car shapes ever.  And it has influenced their cars ever since. By contrast, the new sportscar from Toyota and Subaru (called the 86 from one and the BRZ from the other) is rather underwhelming, to say the least.

But wait – isn’t this a blog about writing? So why all the car talk? Because just like car shapes, your writing needs to be distinctive, too. You might have captivating dialogue, fascinating characters, scintillating descriptions and a killer story – but if your writing is no different from the next five authors in your genre, you’re going to struggle.

However, describing a writer’s voice can also be difficult. Douglas Adams had a strongly different voice. His style of wordplay and of leveraging the sense of the absurd was pretty new and unique for the time. Here is a nice concise example:

They hung in the air in much the same way that bricks don’t.

Adams is describing the Vogon ships sitting in the sky of Earth near the start of The HitchHiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Just this phrase is wonderfully evocative and original. But it is undeniably Adam’s writing style. I know others have tried to copy it, but copying it closely rarely works.

Another example is Terry Pratchett.  Over the years Pratchett has developed a way of using his Discworld setting to lampoon and comment on the real world. The earliest stories have such things as cameras that house tiny imps that can paint lightning fast. More recent novels have semaphore towers stretching across the continent – all manned by people who watch the previous tower to pass on the message. He has basically developed a unique twist on creating a vaguely Victorian society with a persistent low-level magical influence to the technology. This is his distinct voice.

A third example is David Eddings. I’ve mentioned before how Eddings grabs his readers from the start. He has characters that you feel you can talk to who use, for the most part, quite modern ways of talking to each other. And Eddings is unashamed in his use of typical fantasy tropes. He even said so. This is his distinct voice.

And lastly we come to J. R. R. Tolkien. What Tolkien actually excels in is world-building. His worlds have gods, peoples, languages, and most importantly: lots and lots of history. And history is full of stories. This is what Tolkien loved best. When held up to modern authors, his most certainly writing has flaws – but everyone remembers the epic story that changes a massive world. This is his distinct voice.

So what are you doing to create your distinct voice?

4 Comments

Filed under David Eddings, Douglas Adams, storytelling, Terry Pratchett, Tolkien, writing

4 responses to “That Distinctive Voice

  1. I’m not sure! I have been reading Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, and in it, he has this amazing quote: “What do you think of the world? You, the prism, measure the light of the world; it burns through your mind to throw a different spectroscopic reading onto white paper than anyone else anywhere can throw.” So, I think I have been trying to use that as my compass. How do I see the world that is unique? And just trying to be as honest as possible with that in mind, trusting that a uniqueness will come through.

    • That’s a good quote!

      In my writing, I am aware that I am saying something. Sometimes it is as simple as “I haven’t read about a ginger werewolf before”, but other times it is much more complicated. I have a current work-in-progress that explores when a soldier has to disagree with his authoritarian empire.

  2. Discovering your voice is difficult I think because it’s hard to see your own…what do you think? I would say as writers we see our writing every single day, the only way we could notice what really makes it distinct is to leave it alone for a while and then take a look back at it, but by then we’ve changed? It’s similar to our appearance, those who haven’t seen us in a while will notive the fluctuation of our weight, and our relatives can see the coloration and changes in our complexion. It’s hard for us to see ourselves without looking back. Perhaps I’m thinking too much about it. I’m sure I have a certain style to my writing, but I don’t know how to look at it or critique it. It feels like a shady area for development, but also something that you should strive to make yours (voice),

    • Artists paint and/or draw take time to develop their own style. Part of the point of developing your art style is to learn how to identify that. Writers should do the same.

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