Friday, September 16, 2011

Writing Voice

By Kristina Wright

I love being a part of this group blog-- I find the weekly themed topics to be fun, challenging and thought provoking. I don't always get to read the posts daily-- sometimes (like the past few weeks), I'm reading a week's worth of posts just hours before I'm due to post my own column. I read this week's posts with something like awe-- authors who have already wowed me with their own unique voices, taking on the voice of an author they admire and doing it justice? I'm floored by the talent on this blog.

Like Charlotte, I fear I'm a failure at writing in someone else's voice. Though I don't consider Charlotte a failure at anything writing related. I'm so in awe of her unique writing voice that I considered trying to imitate her, but I knew I couldn't come close to mimicking her humor. I tried to come up with an author I could imitate and I couldn't come up with one. Nothing but an echo in my brain, I'm afraid.

So here I am, thinking about authorial voice without a real blog post to match the theme. (And no sexy men to share like Charlotte.) I admire writers who can mimic another author's voice. It's a bit like duplicating a Van Gogh, isn't it? To study an author's work-- as unique as his or her fingerprint-- and manipulate your own words to match the magic of the original? Daunting, to say the least. Impossible, in my case.

About a decade ago I was offered the opportunity to "audition" for a role as a writer for a popular teen fiction series. The author whose name graces the covers of the dozens of books in the series has long since stopped writing, but her voice lives on thanks to the handful of writers commissioned to write like her. It was a lucrative gig and it didn't feel like it would be terribly difficult to imitate the voice of the original author. Boy, was I wrong.

I read three of the books and sat down to write my own three-chapter proposal. Within paragraphs, I found myself slipping out of the original author's voice and back into my own. Frustrated, I wrote and rewrote those chapters, beating them into submission until I had come as close as I was ever going to manage to sounding like the woman who created the series. I spent more time editing than I did writing-- changing words and phrases, writing and rewriting the dialogue of beloved characters that fans of the series know as well as they know their own families. Finally, I shipped off my proposal with something close to confidence. I'd spent three times longer writing those chapters than anything I'd ever written under my own name-- surely I had nailed it. Did I already mention how wrong I was?

The rejection was nice. Complimentary, even. But I didn't get the gig because after all that work I still hadn't managed to capture the original author's voice. I guess I knew that even as I was printing those crisp pages to send off for consideration, but we writers sometimes suffer delusions of grandeur. (Or is it just me?) I knew my writing was strong and the chapters-- read independent of the series they were based on-- were solid. But that simply wasn't enough. I had to sound like the author and I am apparently tone deaf when it comes to any voice but my own.

And-- this is embarrassing to admit-- I don't think I took the assignment seriously enough. This wasn't Shakespeare or Austen or Chandler-- this was a YA series that was never going to win any awards but had managed to attract a large and loyal following. I made the fatal mistake of assuming I was at least as good a writer as the creator of the series. Hell, maybe I am. But even at my best, I could not manage to duplicate her. Lesson learned the hard way.

So rather than torture you with my half-assed attempt at duplication I thought I'd share this anecdote of my professional failure. Because, to be honest, I don't have enough time in any given day right now to try to write like someone else-- I can barely find time to write like myself. And I know that all these years later I couldn't do any better a job than I did then. That's not to say my own voice is so amazing and unique (as I think Charlotte's is) that I can't sound like anyone but myself. No, I wish that were true. I just think I lack whatever skill it takes to duplicate another author.

So thanks to my peers for showing me how it's done-- I'm truly impressed with your lovely efforts. And thanks, dear Charlotte, for sharing the hot men and making me feel a little less lonely in the "failure to write to theme" category. I'm honored to share your company.


  1. I've failed to write to theme more times than I'd like to admit. Sometimes, those are the most interesting posts. At least you were invite to audition! And in a way, aren't you thankful that you didn't get the job? It sounds a bit awful if you ask me.

  2. Hi, Kristina,

    In fact I think it's terribly difficult to imitate someone else's style. My post, Kathleen's and Garce's were all bordering on parody - not the same thing as imitation at all. No one would ever confuse my writing with Austen's!

    I like the way you turned this topic around, though. Jeremy's attempt to imitate Charlotte (if you haven't read it, do! It's amazingly close, though Charlotte, you are unique) made me think about what someone would have to do to imitate me. And I realized that aside from setting their mimicked post in some foreign country, it would be pretty difficult because I don't really have a distinctive style.

    Anyway - I would definitely not label this post a failure - or your rejection for the ghost writer position, either, for that matter.

  3. *high fives* I'm not alone! Also: EXTREME BLUSHES. Gosh, don't know what to do with all these compliments, this week. Thanks, Kristina!


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