Thursday, August 13, 2009

Voice and Fashion

What I'm reading: Warrior, by Angela Knight

Recently, I've started watching "What Not to Wear." I'd never heard of the show until I was at a conference, waiting for an agent appointment, and another writer asked if I thought she was dressed appropriately. She told me her entire wardrobe had been hijacked by a television show, and she had only 3 outfits until she could get to New York for her shopping spree.

Then, hubby made some comment about how something in my closet (probably many somethings) would never pass muster on "What Not to Wear." So, when an episode showed up during a bit of channel surfing, I stopped clicking and watched. I learned that one poor, badly-dressed soul gets $5000 for a new wardrobe, but has to follow the "rules" set forth by Stacy and Clinton, the hosts of the show.

The show has become a guilty diversion as I take a lunch break (and the hubster normally brings his sandwich in and watches it too, although I'm not sure why, since half the time he prefers the slut look so many of the participants start with. Ah, wait. They show the before clothes!). And some days I watch a second episode in the evening.

One of the most common fears expressed by the nominees is, "I want to be me. I don't want someone changing my special style." Of course, Stacy and Clinton will argue that the nominee has no style, and they proceed to throw away the poor person's wardrobe.

And before you shout, "waste, waste, waste", I have it on good authority that the clothes are actually donated – which must make Stacy and Clinton cringe, since they consider almost all the stuff totally inappropriate for wearing.

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And the nominees most certainly must sign something that says they have to go along with it if they're going to get the money, yet they continue to argue that their clothes are fine, and Stacy and Clinton don't really know them well enough to tell them how to dress.

Anyway – what does this have to do with writing? I ran across a few posts on "Voice" in my blog hopping, and I think there's a tie in. Because when each episode of WNTW ends, the participant agrees that they're the same person on the inside, but now the outside matches. And they almost always admit they were wrong, and they're much happier now that they've seen that they can be attractive, yet be themselves.

Stacy and Clinton don't create cookie-cutter clones. They pay attention to the participants' likes and dislikes, and try to show how they can keep those, while working within some more fashionable parameters. Like, no tails pinned to one's jeans. No bare bellies.

Any author starting out tries to write what she thinks an author should sound like. She might work hard to make her characters sound unique, and true to their backgrounds, but all the other stuff—the narrative parts where the character isn't speaking—sounds stilted. It sounds "writerly." And what the characters say isn't the same as "Voice."

There's no real way to teach voice. We've done exercises in workshops where everyone gets a picture and writes a paragraph about it. Then they switch with someone else, and write a paragraph about that person's picture. When they're read out loud, it's clear that no two are alike. Not only do they see different things in the picture to write about, but some will write humor, others write dark. Some write short, snappy sentences, others write flowery prose.

If you read multi-published authors, you'll start to be able to recognize their voices. There's no way you'd mistake Janet Evanovich for Michael Connelly. As the writer, you have to let your own voice show through, no matter what you're writing. It takes practice—and courage, because you have to put "you" on the page, and not the "writer."

But when you finish, you should have your own special work. You won't be a cookie-cutter clone. Rule of thumb—if it sounds "writerly", cut it. When the words flow from the fingertips, that's probably your own voice coming through. Let it sing.

On the real life front:

No word on when the dryer part will appear. I guess the repairman and I have different definitions about "I'll keep you informed," despite my followup call to the company.

And, not so surprising, the retirement/unemployment thing is hitting a few stumbling blocks. Hubby went to the eye doctor. They now require payment before you see the doctor. Upon checking, they said our insurance doesn't exist, despite the fact that we've been making the COBRA payments for the past 5 months. (Sorry, couldn't resist using the snake to illustrate this point). I wonder what'll happen when the dentist puts the charges through for my routine cleaning last week. Of course, nobody at the insurance side of things was answering the phone, and their website was down. The only 'bright side' is that since this is all based on hubby's former employer, he gets to deal with it.

And, what he found out was that despite our paying for everything, we don't exist. We've been reinstated retroactive to the 1st of July, but somehow, I'm wondering if they'll refund our premiums for all the payments we made prior to that. Not holding my breath for that one.

Tomorrow - yep, it's Friday. Bookmark this blog for another chapter from the adventures of Homicide Detective Mark Hussey.


Sheila Deeth said...

This was fascinating. I love the way you tied clothing into voice. Very visual. Very effective.

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Sheila. And I feel 'justified' in watching the show!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I think I need that show. I'd love to have my wardrobe thrown out and restocked with new stuff.

As for voice, I have this weird feeling that my voice for my new project (a standalone suspense novel) has changed big time from my voice in the amateur sleuth mysteries. I always thought an author's voice, once developed, would be the same for all his works. Now I'm not sure.

And Cobra? I've heard about the cost, but to pay all that money and have it disappear into the twilight zone would drive me nuts.

Terry Odell said...

Patricia, they do say that your voice will remain recognizable once it's developed. I think there's a definite 'connect' between Nora Roberts and JD Robb even though "they" write two markedly different types of books.

So someone should recognize "you" even though the tone of the books might be different. It'll be interesting to check once you finish the project. (Maybe it means you're still developing your voice - it does grow the more you write.)