Voiced Fricatives

Writing: it isn’t for the weak, knock-kneed, lily-livered, or over-hyphenated.

But you know that, and you’re probably sick of hearing writers complain about it. So instead: something that makes writing easier.

Voice is, at least for me, the most difficult aspect of writing to establish and maintain. Mostly this is because I don’t like my natural writing voice — a sort of plodding, syllable heavy, pedantic beast that wrests all immediacy from my prose. See? I just did it. It looks like I was trying too hard, but those are legitimately the first words that came to mind. I’m going to leave them there, my little badge of shame.

Wave at the pretty, pedantic words.

But how to change voice? What to do when the polysyllabic rubble just won’t stop piling up?

Read some more, I say. Read varied. Read all the things. Here are some things that work for me, a smorgasbord of conflicting voices for every mood.

Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996 by Seamus Heaney — Heaney is not my favorite poet, but a quick glance at “Singing School” and I’m ready to believe in short, powerful lines. A read through “Limbo” reminds me what tragedy is: “Fishermen at Ballyshannon / Netted an infant last night / Along with the salmon / An illegitimate spawning.”

Collected Poems by Patrick Kavanagh — Maybe my favorite of the poets, and the collected works is especially useful for the startling change between the idyllic poetry of the young Kavanagh and the embittered verse of his later years. A flip to two or three poems reminds me that writers grow and change in both art and outlook.

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy — This reminds me that sometimes heavy, slow moving prose can build into a raging torrent of story goodness. I mean, it takes five hundred pages, but well worth the ride. Honestly, my man crush on Conroy is… yes. I would have his literary babies.

Egil’s Saga by Snorri Sturluson– Icelandic sagas, if you’ve never read one, are filled with matter of fact, straightforward sentences which do absolutely nothing but get the point across: “One evening the King had gone to bed.” Writing a whole novel that way might not work so well, but there’s an undeniable punch there.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman — I read Gaiman before all the other cool kids, so put away your pitchforks. He’s not here because it’s the trendy trend, but because I believe Neverwhere stands as his best piece of novel-length writing. Yes, better than American Gods. The novel was originally written for the BBC, then rewritten as a graphic novel, then rewritten again as pure text. The revision process shows in every step — the story becomes tighter, the characters more identifiable. Neverwhere reminds me that everything is a draft.

Terribleminds (Chuck Wendig’s Blog) — salty-as-hell language, a gift for comic comparison, and an inspiring confidence meet up in this blog and inspire me to be, well, funnier. He’s not a miracle worker, clearly.

Hyperboleandahalf – Allie Brosh doesn’t update often, but when she does, it’s a ride through hilariously illlustrated stories taken from real life. She’s mastered the difficult task of making a written story read like a spoken story. As I’m often a better oral storyteller than I am a writer, her style has a lot to offer.

And, of course, whatever I’ve read last, or any one of a couple of hundred lines I’ve collected over the years.

The key to influencing voice, I’m convinced, is hearing the voices of others. So get to it!


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