First off, apologies for flaking on last week . . . I know ALL of you were at home, beating your chests, screaming ‘Where is that Frampton Friday post?!? I will die without it.’ And in other news, it was awfully frigid in Hell last Friday, too.
Second, this week I wanted to talk about voice. For me, voice is what makes or breaks a book. And a blog. The reason I started thinking about this was a post Abby Godwin made on her blog about blogs. There are a bunch of bloggers, and authors, I read just because of their voice.
The best example of this is ESPN’s The Sports Guy. Yeah, I like some sports–basketball, mostly, ’cause I’m fond of tall, thin men, but I could really care less about most sports. But when writes about sports–and the latest Rocky movie–I care. It’s because his voice is so powerful.
You know how some people say ‘such-and-such an author could write a grocery list, and I’d read it’? Count me among those folks.
Even if the plot is weak, or ludicrous, if the voice is there, I’ll be there, too. The best situation is when the author’s voice AND plot are strong, but if there’s a choice, I’ll stick with the author who’s got the former. And voice is such a nebulous thing; is it the author’s personality coming through the work? Their distinct choice of language? Their sense of humor (or not)? It’s all of these things, plus something more–something that makes the author (or blogger) unique.
So who’s got the strongest author’s voice you’ve ever encountered? How about bloggers? (my favorite blogs are in a sidebar on my Writer’s Diary, go over and click around if you want. You don’t have to, though. I’m just too lazy to write them all down here. So they’re there.)
In romance, I’d say authors Carla Kelly, Anne Stuart, J.R. Ward, debut author Meljean Brook, Jennifer Crusie, and Mary Balogh.
In Blogland, I’d mention (okay, so I’m not as lazy as I look) Cindy, Suisan, Ilene and of course the Smart Bitches. There are many more (and I did not include any authors’ blogs), these are just some of the strongest voices whom I’ll read, even if they’re talking about vegan desserts.
How important is an author’s voice to you? Are you willing to overlook plot and other problems if you like the voice? Who’s got the strongest voice? What blogs do you like to read, even if the subject is not your favorite?
Thanks for reading!
P.S.: The painting is by John Singer Sargent, one of my favorites. Just because.
If I’m mesmerized by the author’s voice I’m far less likely to notice if the heroine is TSTL, or the plot has a Mac-truck-sized hole in it, etc. Some writers just capture me and hold me in thrall. Julia Ross. Guy Gavriel Kay. Jo Beverley. Wendy Holden. Marion Zimmer Bradley. Arutro Perez-Reverte.
Wha -? Thanks for the linkage!
I’m reading a Carla Kelly book right now and her voice is so distinctive, yet so straightforward – she’s a magician. I honestly don’t know how she does it.
For blog voices, I also really like Squawk Radio – that blog really does sound like a group of women sitting around having a good time.
I’m going to be the dissenter here. Voice can help elevate a straightforward plot but if the characterization is weak and motivations don’t make sense I still don’t like it. It’s been a common flaw in some of the literary fiction I’ve been reading with my book discussion group. I’d rather read a better story told in a more neutral voice.
Some of my favorite authors do have distinctive voices (Loretta Chase, Jennifer Crusie, Julia Ross, so many more) but they deliver the total package.
I think our Janet has one of those strong voices, both on the blog and in her books.
I don’t usually think of voice when I’m reading. I either enjoy the book or I don’t.
I guess voice helps a lot for me, but if I read a whole novel, I have to also like the characters, or be interested in the plot.
Distinctive voices that come to my mind — that is, voices I have a good shot at identifying, rather than voices that are necessarily the best voices — would include:
Nonnie St. George
I guess I, like Elena, prefer a great story told in a voice that serves the story but is not in itself exciting, over a blah story told in fantastic prose.
To make an analogy to singing:
There are some singers whose voices I worship, but whose singing styles I don’t most of the time care for (such as Clay Aiken and Mandy Patinkin). I don’t mostly listen to them, but spend a lot more time listening to singers who have songs and styles I love though they may not be as strong in the singing department (such as, say, Thomas Dolby.)
Then again… to make an acting analogy… Some actors disappear into the role. It’s a lot easier to see someone (like Al Pacino in his recent performances) chew the scenery and say, ah, great actor! But if the actor totally disappears, it may be as good a performance, but less often noticed.
This, I suspect, is why I might not immediately recognize the prose of some of the authors whose work I most admire (such as Connie Willis or Diana Wynne Jones).
Voice matters a lot to me, but it’s so hard to quantify. I love elegant, distinctive prose, but don’t like show-offy literary voice for voice’s sake. I also like lean, spare, straightforward prose but dislike simplistic writing. What I don’t know how to do is describe the difference between elegant and show-offy or spare and simplistic in any kind of objective fashion. It’s like the old definition of porn–I know it when I see it.
As I was reading the comments to see where I fall in, I think I’m like Diane in that I either like it or not. Like for example I read a Lisa Kleypas book last year and while I usually like her, I really wasn’t thrilled with the one I read. BUt if I could remember which one it was I can remember why. LOL 🙂 So I guess I don’t pay attention to voice.
Blogs. . . you know, I don’t know why I read the blogs I do. This one and the Jane Austen ones I visit is easy – Regency related, but you guys make it enjoyable as well. But I could say I visit Squawk Radio because I like the mix of authors. . . I guess I just can’t pin it to one item. 🙂
First of all, I want to read a story told well with characters I would like to meet and a plot that tickles my imagination. Witticisms and elegant prose comes next. Voice, eh.
Brilliant writers, such as Salman Rushdie, with their distinctive voices and talent simply annoy me when they become so enamored of their own writing that they forget to tell a good story.
I’m fickle in that sense. Adoring a couple books by an author doesn’t guarantee I’m going to be singing his/her praises always. Dents in my study wall happen in those cases when previously beloved authors write a book of which I’m not enamored and thus get flung aside in disappointment.
HA HA HA. Thank you.
The vegan baker.
The only author I revere as a “voice” goddess is E. Annie Proulx.
Otherwise it’s Story! Story! Story!
A lot of interesting takes on the whole voice thing–I agree Janet has a very distinctive voice. But Diane, not to think about voice is so contrary to the way I read I am befuddled. Quite fuddled, in fact. But it really speaks to how differently people perceive art. It speaks to everyone, but in various ways. Cool!
Voice is a tricky business, because it is very easy to overdo things, or do them badly. I was in a writing workshop in college–never mind when that was–and two or three of the other writers in the workshop commented that they had recently read The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell.
I will freely admit that I had not read the quartet back then (and, indeed, I still haven’t read much of it), but I had a vague familiarity with it. If you know those books, then you may recall that Durrell’s voice is extremely distinctive.
Anyway, one of those students was writing a novel set in San Francisco; and as he read along, I suddenly realized that he was (consciously or unconsciously) trying to write The Alexandria Quartet set in San Francisco. Unfortunately, I also realized that he just didn’t quite have the chops to pull it off. And frankly, even if he had, it would have been a mistake. Imitating someone else’s voice is not the same as having a voice of your own.
So while I appreciate a strong, distinctive voice, I would rather read a style that doesn’t get in the way–one that tells the story without getting sidetracked into literary gymnastics. If you’re really good, you can have both; but a lot of people try and do not succeed.
To the voice dissenters – I totally understand what you mean (I have the same problem with lots of literary fiction), but haven’t you ever come across a voice that drives you nuts?
With me it’s short. Stacatto. Sentences. It could be the best story in the world, but a voice like that for 300 pages will give me a headache.
Maybe you only notice a voice when you can’t stand it?
For me, the most resonant contemporary voices come from outside romance: Richard Powers. David Foster Wallace. Grace Paley. The late Tillie Olsen.
And on blogs, Nora Ephron.
Megan you hit on so many authors whose voices really speak to me. I’d have to add: Jo Beverley, Diane Farr, Eloisa James for romance and Alexander Dumas and Gabriel Garcia Marchez.
What I meant about voice is that I don’t think about it when I read. (There’s lots I don’t think about when I read, like sentence structure, vocabulary, plot structure, symbolism–It’s a wonder I graduated an English major) I either get sucked into the story or I don’t. I’m sure voice is part of it.
It’s like those actors who disapear into a role — that’s what I like. I like to be so totally carried away that I’m just living in the world of the book and nothing else.
Oh, gosh, Diane. Thanks! (squirming with embarrassment).
I love writers with strong voices–Judith Ivory, Nick Hornby, Eloisa James, Anna Maxted, Barbara Kingsolver, Kate Atkinson, Pam Rosenthal, to name a few and mix my genres. To me half the fun of reading is to “hear” the author as narrator, and it’s what raises a book out of the ordinary.
That “hear” thing about narrative voice is almost spooky — what you get from reading a highly-voiced author is a kind of consistency of mood, an abstraction from “real” hearing, I think (nobody talks exactly like an Elmore Leonard character, for example, and yet it feels like you’re hearing them).
Which thought sort of dovetails with my lack of sympathy with book covers that are too directly representational of how the protagonists are supposed to “look.” When I read deeply engaging novel, I don’t think I directly envision a character. My response is more impressionistic, synaesthetic, imbued as much by a sense of presence as of the particularities of feature. So I like covers that capture that abstraction.
(And an equally embarrassed thanks to you, Janet)