Pub Rants

Multiple Voices (Or Are They Just In Your Head)?

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STATUS: I’m dragging today. I stayed up super late last night but this time it wasn’t because I had an exciting full manuscript to read. Nope. It was excitement of a different kind. I had to run Chutney to the emergency room. Her face swelled up like a hippopotamus out of nowhere last night. Don’t worry, she’s not perky today but doing well. I guess a swollen face is a sign of an allergic reaction. She had a big welt on her leg so we think she was bitten by a spider. She has got to stop playing with those 8-legged friends.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? PERSONAL JESUS by Depeche Mode

I did a phone teleclass today and one of the attendees asked me an interesting question. She asked, “can writers have different voices for different genre projects.”

The question stumped me because I had never really thought about it before. I rather assumed that a writer’s voice is his or her voice regardless of what the person is writing. That your writing voice is essential and unique to you and even though you might bend it to different genres, it will ultimately still “sound” like you or have your unique feel.

And that’s what I said but maybe I was just pushing air. Can writers have different voices for different genres?

29 Responses

  1. KS Augustin said:

    Huh? My sometimes-CP (who is also my DH) says he can recognise my writing anywhere from my pacing, the way I phrase and construct sentences and the kind of words I use, regardless of genre and whether I’m using first- or third-person POV. Says it’s a dead giveaway. (Kinda frightening in a way.)
    Now, I don’t think I could change any of the basics if my life depended on it. Which, when it comes to my future as an author, I suppose it does! 🙂

  2. CM said:

    Lois McMaster Bujold has a different voice in her sci fi as compared to her fantasy.

    She’s claimed it’s intentional, too, and I believe her. I like her sci fi voice better, even if I enjoy all the stories equally.

    I think writing voice is like singing voice: you can cultivate versatility through practice. Think about Weird Al. There’s always something very “Weird Al” about his voice, but he can do an amazing range of imitations with it.

  3. Jessica D. Russell said:

    Nora Roberts is a fantastic example of different voices. Her trilogies are much different in flavor than her JD Robb stories.

    PC Cast also does very well changing her voice between her fantasy romances and her YA title she cowrote with her daughter. That may be the reason.

    I believe it’s possible, but it’s difficult for most. Just an observation.

  4. randomsome1 said:

    I switched voices in an extended work when switching between the POV characters. The finished product still sounded like my writing, but the characters sounded different enough from each other that normal readers remarked on it.

  5. Anonymous said:

    Absolutely. We do it in speech, and it’s called code-switching” (think of the boarding school scholarship kid who talks one way in the dorms and another when he’s back home in the ghetto). We do it when we write an academic paper followed by an email to our best friend. We do it when we are first finding our voices as writers and try on the styles of others. It may be less common when it comes to novels, because once we’ve found something that works, we tend to stick with it, but writers can certainly have more than one voice.

    That said, I do think there is often something that resonates across the different voices, as ks augustin noted. Kind of like how a mother could recognize her kid even in a really good disguise.

  6. Anonymous said:

    I like to think my historicals differ in style from my YAs and contemporaries. Not just in word choice and dialogue patterns, but in overall mechanics. Longer, more fluid sentences in the historicals. Shorter, punchier ones in the contemporaries. And an extreme style change for a couple of short stories. All deliberate. Of course, I can tell the difference. But it’s not something I’ve asked those who’ve read across all of the disparate works. Will have to test your hypothesis, Kristin.

  7. Loquacious Me said:

    I find that my voice changes a great deal, depending on what I’m writing. For example, the urban fantasy I toy with, now and then, has a very different voice from the medieval-ish fantasy adventure that I’m devoting time to right now. It’s not just word choice, it’s the way the sentence is constructed, the way the scenes are laid out, even the way the chapters progress.

    I never thought of it before, but now that I have, it’s kinda cool.

  8. Debby Garfinkle said:

    Well, I’ve been writing a humorous and very silly chapter book series for children, mostly boys (The Supernatural Rubber Chicken series, out next year), at the same time I’ve been writing an edgy trilogy for teens, mostly girls (The Band; the first book just came out). If my voice is the same for both series, I’m in big trouble and so are my readers.

    I think that I’ll always have a lot of dialogue and not much description in my writing; but my voice I think varies by what type of writing I’m doing.

  9. Marsupialis said:

    I think from a commercial perspective that you’d want your client to develop a fixed voice and maintain it. But from an artistic perspective, that’s death. It simply produces the same material endlessly reiterated. Something, I think, the later John LeCarre books are guilty of.

  10. Michele Lee said:

    Sure. I mean, there will be parts that are the same. But you might lay the atmosphere on thicker for a fantasy than for a more character driven straight romance. And you might adapt yourself more to someone else’s works if you are doing an IP piece.

  11. Natalie Damschroder said:

    I think these comments are indicative of the extreme difficulty of defining “voice.” 🙂

    I know a reader who hated a particular author but loved another one–and then found out it was the same person in two subgenres of romance with different pen names.

    I don’t think Nora Roberts’ voice ever changes, though I agree her JD Robb books are really different. I think the TONE changes, and that we often confuse tone with voice.

    So I’m not sure we can change our voice, once we establish it.

  12. Anonymous said:

    Glad Chutney’s doing better! When my pup got snake bit and her face swelled like that, I immediately knew what it was so I didn’t panic. But I did laugh because she looked so funny. Gave her a complex, I think. I had to smother her with lots of hugs and kisses to assure her she was still a good, pretty dog :o) I’m sure Chutney got the hugs, too.

  13. angelle said:

    i have a friend who is incredibly versatile in her voices, so much so that i wouldn’t have been able to tell some of them were here. however, i’ve been told that i’m really consistent when i write fiction – put my story in a pool of 30 and someone who’s read my stuff enough could pick me out. i tend to think there’s a certain authentcity to myself that i retain even when experimenting with new things, and i guess that’s something i’d like to keep, although i don’t think i could change it even if i tried. that being said though, i’m remarkably impressed by writers who can change their writing voice completely depending on the genre. it’s incredibly hard to not do what you instinctually like to do!

  14. Julie said:

    Voice is our personality on paper. So, no we don’t change our voice. We CAN change the style and tone of the writing so it fits with different genres, but voice…nope. Unless, you have multiple personalities, then heck yeah! 🙂

    Maybe all those voices in my head will be useful after all… 🙂

  15. reality said:

    I think people can have different voices, while writing. But maintaining a different voice/tone over the length of a novel is an extreme feat.
    Stienbeck’s ‘The Winter of our Discontent’ has an altogether different voice to East of Eden.
    It is possible, but difficult.

  16. Linda Adams said:

    I have a co-writer for my book. What’s interesting is that a number of people swear they can pick out what sentences co-writer has written. But when they identify the sentences, it turns out I wrote them!

  17. Anonymous said:

    Sorry Jessica – Nora Robert’s voice doesn’t change. Just the characters and the setting. The JD books call for a darker feel – but when I picked up the first “In Death” book – not realizing who wrote it – I knew instantly it was either a Nora rip off or Nora herself.

    And the answer to Kristen’s question is… they shouldn’t.

    Your voice is what makes you, you. I would be completely confused to pick up a book by the same author and find a different voice.

    If an author were to write with different voices she/he better do it with different names.

    But honestly I don’t think it’s possible. Unless your Niki/Jessica from Heros and have the whole split personality thing going on.

  18. Mary Alice Pritchard said:

    Actually, I suppose that is a depends answer. 🙂 I’ve been told my dark suspenses/urbans are totally different from my romantic comedies and some of my paranormal romances. They told me if they didn’t know I wrote both, they wouldn’t believe it. So I do I guess.

  19. Juliette Wade said:

    Do actors have different voices when they do different parts? Sure they do – and also, they don’t. Those differences in voice are going to show up at different levels of complexity in the writing, depending on where the author is making conscious choices to alter them. Two books can sound very different, as can two characters in the same book, but on the subtle levels I think we can detect the original flavor of the author’s voice underneath. In my opinion it’s good to cultivate flexibility in voice, but I’d be surprised if anyone actually became completely unrecognizable stylistically.

  20. Eliza said:

    Poor, sweet Chutney! Love and biscuits to her!

    I definitely have different voices. My crime and noir stuff is different than my YA, and both are different than my non-fiction, and I’ve had small success with all of ’em. But that’s sort of necessary, what with writing in such different arenas, eh?

  21. BuffySquirrel said:

    I remember a cat that used to chase bees. Or maybe wasps. Every so often, this cat would appear with a very puffed-up head. Once, I had to remove a sting from its lip–you can imagine how kindly it took to that!

    One of the problems I’m having with my alt-hist novel could be (I don’t say it is) that I’ve tried to write it in the narrator’s voice, not mine. He’s not very literary, bless him.

  22. Nonny said:

    Hmm. There are definitely things that follow across my work — mostly in regards to theme and my love for strong female protagonists — but voice/style itself? Tends to change depending on what I’m working on.

    I usually write in deep third POV and (imo) if you’re doing it well, the tone/voice/style will be shifted by the character’s voice.

    Sometimes I get bored with what I’m working on primarily and take a break to futz around with something in a different voice. One of the novellas I have (unfortunately not finished) is written in a very different voice from my usual.

    I think, though, if not for voice, people could probably figure out it was me due to tendencies in plots and characters. 😛

  23. Becky Levine said:

    I’ve always thought we do a disservice to writers when we talk about a writers’ voice, as though they CAN only write in one voice. I think of it more as the narrator’s voice. This is easy to see if the book is in first person, obviously, but in third it gets a bit trickier. Still, I think there is always a somebody or something telling the story, and, while it may be an aspect of the writer’s personality, I think it’s still going to be different depending on the topic or angle.

    This isn’t to say that some writers don’t “sound” or “feel” the same each time we read them, and thank goodness. If I picked up a Roald Dahl and it didn’t sound like a Dahl book, I think I’d cry. Still, I doubt that that voice is everything there was about Mr. Dahl or that, in person, I would have put him and his voice together and decided they were exactly the same.

    My definition of a strong voice is when you’ve written a narrative voice that, in theory, is recognizable. Not across your books, but outside them. I.e., if I walked down the streets of San Luis Obisop, and I met a teenage girl who had certain mannerisms and talked a certain way, I should be able to recognize her as Sammy Keyes. (If you want two voices–look at Wendolin van Draanen’s Sammy Keyes series and her Shredderman series.) Even if I couldn’t pin down who she was, I should know I’ve “met” her before. And it shouldn’t be just because of the green hightops.

    My two cents.

  24. Robin D Owens said:

    I have a different, more historical voice for my Heart books and a more casual, contemporary style for the Luna Summoning books.


  25. Kanani said:

    Well, voice entails style, our way of not only seeing things, but also stringing words together to find a rhythm, a pattern that fits not only the work at hand, but is also comfortable to the writer.

    I think a good writer can produce books in different genres and know how to pick the words, the sentence length, dialog, and effective comparisons to fit the piece but still maintain that little gloss that’s all their own.

    Barry Lopez writes both non fiction and fiction. As does Joan Didion. Denis Johnson writes plays, poetry and fiction. Or how about Thomas Farber who writes all fiction, non fiction plus a few books of epigrams.

    And that’s not even counting the people who do short stories –Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood. Yet they all maintain that “Lopez-ishness” or that “Munro-ness.” Though I wonder if The New Yorker were to leave out all names on their short stories, and give readers a list –if we could match them up correctly. Now that would be fun.

  26. Carradee said:

    I’d say that it depends on the writer, and I only say that because I know of writers who assume and insist that writing in different styles is impossible. I know it’s not because I’ve been told that I do it.

    There will most likely be similar elements in a single writer’s voices, but the writer could also train to write dissimilarly enough for it to potentially be a different author who happens to use some of those techniques.